Berlioz: La belle voyageuse; L’origine de la harpe; Les champs; Le chant des Bretons; Le matin

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COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: Alpha
WORKS: La belle voyageuse; L’origine de la harpe; Les champs; Le chant des Bretons; Le matin
PERFORMER: Jérôme Corréas (bass-baritone), Arthur Schoonderwoerd (piano), etc
CATALOGUE NO: 024

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Most of the songs and ensembles in Berlioz’s early Thomas Moore collection Irlande remain within the tradition of the French romance, their innocent charm spiced up by the composer’s sinuous, irregular phrasing and nonchalant harmonic audacity. One or two, though, go deeper: the nostalgic ‘Adieu Bessy’, and ‘Élégie’, a song of startling dramatic intensity written in the first flush of Berlioz’s passion for Harriet Smithson. Both in the Irlande numbers and in the later mélodies here Jérôme Corréas phrases intelligently and varies his dynamics sensitively. He is fine in more robust songs like ‘Le chasseur danois’ and ‘Le champs’, and in the two duets, by turns hearty and solemn, where he is joined by tenor Alain Gabriel. But his clean, ‘straight’ tone, admirable in Baroque repertoire, lacks the sensuality and subtlety of shading needed for songs like ‘Premiers transports’ and ‘La belle voyageuse’, where Corréas sounds plain and earnest alongside the exquisitely supple, graceful performances by Véronique Gens (Virgin) and Anne Sofie von Otter (DG). Arthur Schoonderwoerd, playing an attractive, soft-toned 1836 Pleyel instrument, shapes Berlioz’s often modest accompaniments discerningly, though he suffers from being backwardly balanced in an over-resonant acoustic. Far from a write-off, then. But for colour, grace and ecstasy you’ll have to look elsewhere – though, frustratingly, the excellent DG survey of Berlioz’s mélodies, with von Otter et al, has slipped out of the catalogue. Richard Wigmore