Berlioz • Ravel

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COMPOSERS: Hector Berlioz; Maurice Ravel
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Berlioz • Ravel
WORKS: Berlioz: Herminie; Les nuits d’été; ravel: Schéréazade
PERFORMER: Véronique Gens (soprano); Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire/John Axelrod


It was clear from her earliest performances that Véronique Gens was set to become one of the century’s finest sopranos, with a voice notable for its purity and evenness through all registers, wonderful diction and, above all, intelligence. In her mid-forties, this voice has become richer and even more expressive, and the works on this disc suit her to perfection. She not only pronounces the words, she feels them, caresses them or, when required declaims them with unanswerable authority. Her Nuits d’été relishes hues both light and dark, and if she’d been around to sing Berlioz’s Prix de Rome cantata Herminie in 1828, who knows, he might have won gold instead of silver!

I’m sad, therefore, to have to quibble over a few details, only one of which concerns her: namely her refusal to observe Ravel’s two marked slides in ‘L’indifférent’ on the phrase ‘plus séduisante’. She is, quite properly, not averse to expressive slides elsewhere, and this seems a curious omission. Two other details concern the orchestra. At the start of this same song, not only do the strings play well above the marked pianissimo, but for some reason Axelrod chooses to bring out the viola line – then does not do so when the same music returns at the very end. The only truly horrible moment comes (and I thought this was a misreading that had now been corrected everywhere) in ‘Asie’, where the double basses play a straight low A instead of the correct harmonic (E in the middle of the texture). A great shame.


Roger Nichols