WORKS: Les nuits d’été,Trois poèmes païens
PERFORMER: José Van Dam (baritone) Orchestra della Svizzera italiana de Lugano/Serge Baudo
CATALOGUE NO: UCD 16768
Somehow one doesn’t expect a baritone to sing the Nuits d’été – though José Van Dam is not the first (Gérard Souzay did so) and has recorded the work before, in its piano version, for which Berlioz stipulated mezzo-soprano or tenor. His later orchestral version proposed a baritone for Sur les lagunes, but the dedicatees of the other five songs all had higher voices.
In any case, the 57-year-old Belgian is a bass-baritone, whose rather gritty timbre is scarcely what these most ethereal of Romantic songs require. One can certainly set down Van Dam’s diction and a surprising lightness of tone on the plus side, but something central to the sound-world of these pieces is wrong.
His conductor, Serge Baudo, is a Berlioz specialist, and rarely has one heard the fascinating orchestral detail so deftly clarified. The Swiss orchestra’s top-quality playing is also an asset in the early Frank Martin songs, with their clear Wagnerian and Straussian background. Clad in thick textures, the musical ideas here prove more commonplace than their treatment, with the final impression being of an immature and frankly rebarbative composition. George Hall