ALBUM TITLE: Chausson: Le roi Arthus
WORKS: Le roi Arthus
PERFORMER: Susan Bullock, Andrew Schroeder, Simon O’Neill, François Le Roux, Daniel Okulitch, Garret Sorensen, Donald McIntyre; Apollo Voices; BBC SO & Chorus/Leon Botstein
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80645
As a take on Arthurian legend, Chausson’s stage masterpiece ought to be the English national opera, if only it weren’t so thoroughly French. A little bit German, too – the memory of Tristan und Isolde looms, though Chausson, who worried about that influence, kept it at bay. In the magnificent final half-hour, searching instrumental melodies wind through the successive farewells of Guinevere and Lancelot, capped by Arthur’s death and transfiguration through ten minutes of choral radiance. You can picture him floating off in his barge and rising into the heavens as though in a series of paintings by Chausson’s friend Maurice Denis.
This, the opera’s third recording, makes a fine and technically better replacement for the deleted Armin Jordan set. With three baritones, two tenors and just one female lead, variety of timbre is paramount. Andrew Schroeder’s warmly coloured tone and stamina as Arthus, with a hint of heroic steel, is countered by the mellowed, quietly powerful Merlin of François Le Roux. To Simon O’Neill’s dynamic, ardent Lancelot there is the lighter support of Garret Sorenson as Lyonnel. Susan Bullock’s Guenièvre is passionate, sometimes all too vibrant but showing, in the two big duets of illicit love and remorse, a range of feeling from tenderness to outrage.
The orchestral music, a constant fluctuating undertow, here lovingly nurtured, seals the opera’s haunting character. The layers of chorus and extra solo sopranos at the end build and fade with affecting power. Botstein judges pace wisely: you have to keep Chausson moving but you can’t hurry him. Robert Maycock