WORKS: Les nuits d’été
PERFORMER: Marie-Nicole Lemieux (contralto), Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CYP 9611 (distr. Discovery)
A most tempting recital, this: three song cycles better known in their orchestral versions, but here revealing new, intimate insight in their piano-accompanied form. This Berlioz-Wagner-Mahler programme also serves to introduce the voice of the Canadian contralto (for so she describes herself) Marie-Nicole Lemieux.
The fragrances and subtle movement of Berlioz’s Nuits d’été are realised to their full only in the orchestrations he made 15 years later; and in the original piano-accompanied version, both singer and pianist have to work hard to sustain the melodic line and the elusive nuances and harmonic colours of Berlioz’s language. Lemieux’s voice is beautifully groomed and, as a native French speaker, she knows a thing or two about phrase-shaping and elision. Her performances are sober and serious, if a little bloodless: one longs at times for a greater inner intensity in pacing and colouring the words. We never quite feel the force of those impassioned exclamation marks!
Her deep thoughtfulness as an artist is well-matched to Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder; though here, too, we miss the fully expansive sense of smiling rapture in the face of Nature’s wonders. Mahler’s Rückert Lieder (four of the five were intended for orchestra) reveal the higher, more animated range of Lemieux’s voice, and her meticulous sculpting of the line, in excellent German, makes for an impressive ‘Um Mitternacht’. Daniel Blumenthal is, throughout, a sensitive, if not over-inspired, accompanist. Hilary Finch