Tenor arias by Berlioz, Donizetti, Verdi, Gounod, Massenet et al
Benjamin Bernheim (tenor); PFK Prague Philharmonia/Emmanuel Villaume
DG 483 6078 63:17 mins
This is Benjamin Bernheim’s debut solo album, though he has performed most of the roles represented here (from La bohème, La traviata, Eugene Onegin, etc) on the stage, and has contributed to several opera recordings.
The first thing to say is that Bernheim has an immaculate natural voice – rich, flexible, mellifluous and nuanced. He is at his very best in French items from the later 19th century such as Gounod’s Faust, where he elicits from the extract the character’s unsettling discovery of tender love, and similarly in ‘En fermant les yeux’ from Massenet’s Manon he enables us to sense the hidden internal emotions of the lover with subtle inflections of his voice. Moreover, throughout the disc he is supported by a superbly controlled and responsive orchestra. His performances of the Italian arias from the earlier years of the 19th century are less convincing. His rendering of ‘Fra poco a me ricovero’ from Donizetti’s Lucia, for example, is oddly static, chopped into isolated phrases, while in ‘Parma veder la lagrime’ (Verdi, Rigoletto) he seems not to have the stylistic confidence to tackle the elaborate cadenza at the end. Most of these texts involve musings on an absent lover, but in ‘Quando le sere al placido’ (Verdi, Luisa Miller) the deceptive lilt of the melody is broken by the outcry ‘Ah! She was betraying me’, which probably requires a little more hurt and tension. Artistic stature is restored however in his moving presentation of Lensky’s letter scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.