PERFORMER: Paul Charles Clarke, Alastair Miles, Mary Plazas, Garry Magee; Philharmonia Orchestra/David Parry
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 3014(3)
Christopher Cowell’s eminently singable translation provides a strong basis for this English-language recording of Gounod’s war-horse, whose most immediate predecessor in this specialised field dates from 70 years ago and is – conductor Thomas Beecham and tenor Heddle Nash notwithstanding – a disappointment. The Chandos version also offers an unusually full edition of the score, taking in sections – such as Marguerite’s Spinning Song, Siébel’s second aria and the Walpurgisnacht Scene (with the ballet as an appendix) – left out of many recordings, let alone stage performances.
It’s also finely cast, with Mary Plazas providing an immaculately vocalised Marguerite, Alastair Miles a subtle and urbane devil, Paul Charles Clarke an involving and impressively musical portrayal of the title role and Garry Magee a resilient and dramatically focused Valentin. With smaller roles undertaken by the likes of Diana Montague (a comprehensively skilful Siébel) and Sarah Walker (a richly comic Dame Marthe) the work’s entire range of characters is colourfully realised, with all the participants vocally apt and interpretatively diligent.
Nor is the lightness and grace of Gounod’s quintessentially French style short-changed, and much of the credit for this rests with conductor David Parry, who shows a real feeling for the score’s delicacy, humour and vivid dramatics. For those seeking the original text, Michel Plasson’s account on EMI with Studer, Leech, Van Dam and Hampson is the best of recent sets, but no one is likely to be disappointed with Chandos’s Anglophone achievement. George Hall