Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz/Ravel/Chausson
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Les nuits d’été; Schéhérazade; Poème de l’amour et de la mer
PERFORMER: Vesselina Kasarova (mezzo-soprano)ORF SO/Pinchas Steinberg
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68008 2
This treasury of French orchestral song – Berlioz dramatic, Ravel luxuriant, Chausson melancholic – should be the ideal vehicle for the ravishing contralto of Vesselina Kasarova. The mystery is why she calls herself a mezzo-soprano; like Baker and von Otter, she transposes four songs of Les nuits d’été down a major third, leaving only two in the keys carefully chosen by Berlioz for his orchestration. This has a mildly depressive effect on the faster songs, and ‘Absence’ loses its ethereal quality. ‘Le spectre de la rose’, beautifully sung, does not quite thrill at the climax; the laments come off well, as does the conclusion of the Chausson in which nostalgia yields to a frightening nihilism. This beautiful singing is also intelligent, and responsive to nuances in the poetry; all the odder that certain French vowels have simply not been properly learned. This matters more in Berlioz’s transparent scoring than in the sumptuous orchestral textures of Chausson and Ravel, into which the voice is so embedded as actually to disappear once or twice beneath the eloquence of the orchestra. If the Shéhérazade cannot quite match Ansermet with Crespin, it is worth having; the Chausson comes off magnificently. Julian Rushton