Berlioz¥Ravel

COMPOSERS: Berlioz,Ravel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Berlioz,Ravel
WORKS: Les nuits d’étéShéhérazade; Cinq mélodies populaires grecques
PERFORMER: Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano); German SO, Berlin/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901932
The late Régine Crespin’s recording of Nuits d’été and Shéhérazade, one of the most miraculous of discs, sets a high standard to aim at. On some levels, Bernarda Fink offers competition. Her French is good, her tone is even throughout and its range with no tightness at the top or breathiness at the bottom (her low F flat in ‘Sur les lagunes’ is superb) and she phrases with a feeling for line. Problems mainly lie elsewhere.

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Firstly, Nagano’s moaning. At least with Toscanini you usually got an approximation of the cello line. Nagano is a proponent of free variation, notably in the orchestral prelude to ‘Le spectre de la rose’, but also beneath the credited soloist in the first of the Ravel Greek songs. Much of the orchestral playing in Shéhérazade is too loud, denying us the contrasts between Ravel’s ppps and ,i>fffs. And there is one horrid, false bare fifth at 3:20 in ‘Au cimetière’, with the low clarinet playing F instead of D.

As for transposing ‘Villanelle’ down a whole major third into F, this inevitably reduces the sparkle of the repeated quavers to a placid chugging. Finally, though I rate Fink’s French as ‘good’, the finer nuances discovered by Crespin escape her: take two instances from Ravel’s Shéhérazade,/i>, the billowing sail of Crespin’s double ‘mm’ in ‘un immense oiseau de nuit’ (in ‘Asie’), and her concluding portamento in ‘ta démarche féminine et lasse’, with its weight of world-weariness.

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Roger Nichols