PERFORMER: Françoise Pollet (soprano), Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), John Aler (tenor), Thomas Allen (baritone), Cord Garben (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 435 860-2 DDD
This selection of 29 songs and duets is distinctive for its inclusion of several early works, including some which even predate the recently rediscovered Messe solennelle. Not included are Berlioz’s most famous (Nuits d’été) and his earliest (‘Le dépit de la bergère’) songs; but the Nocturne with guitar is a rarity, as are the late ‘Les champs’ and ‘Le matin’ (the other, purer, setting of the same words, ‘Petit oiseau’, is missing). Much of this music was later orchestrated or otherwise elaborated, and two are, properly speaking, rejected works, recycled in Benvenuto Cellini; interesting to hear, but clearly improved in their definitive settings.
The performances are as mixed a bunch as the pieces. Anne Sofie von Otter is outstanding in ‘La captive’ and ‘La mort d’Ophélie’. Thomas Allen tries hard to bring ‘Je crois en vous’ to life and John Aler gains real intensity in the astonishing ‘Elégie’; they also make a lively duet of ‘Le trébuchet’. But Françoise Pollet is pinched in tone and stressed by anything high and not piano; nor do she and von Otter blend well. The accompaniments feature raucous obbligato cello and horn and otherwise tend to confirm the received view that Berlioz’s piano writing, when not clumsy, is conventional; it sounds better on a period instrument. Julian Rushton