Berlioz: Les nuits d’été

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COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Les nuits d’été
PERFORMER: Susan Graham (soprano)ROH Orchestra/John Nelson
CATALOGUE NO: SK 62730
With Berlioz specialist John Nelson conducting, Susan Graham gives an account of Nuits d’été that is worthy to stand comparison with such classic readings as those of Eleanor Steber and Janet Baker.

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The voice is fresh, almost girlish, yet she draws from it an apt range of colours and sings in carefully enunciated French even if, like virtually all non-native singers, the full, tangy flavour of the language eludes her. Nevertheless, there’s a delicacy of utterance and a consciousness of meaning that bring out Berlioz’s special gift for poetic melancholy, so characteristic of this work in particular.

Elsewhere, she’s not fully inside the lightness of spirit of Ascanio’s aria from Benvenuto Cellini, and the tragic scale of Dido’s great farewell to life from The Trojans is beyond her vocal means. The Beatrice and Benedict aria is far more successful, even if the top of her voice here lacks the full weight and security the piece demands.

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In the operatic excerpts, too, Nelson misses some of the extreme nervous energy of the writing, though in Nuits d’été his work is measured and observant, elucidating the distinctive flights of orchestral fantasy that make this nocturnal cycle such an evocative experience. George Hall