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Rivales (Piau/Gens)

Sandrine Piau, Véronique Gens (soprano); Le Concert de la Loge/Julien Chauvin (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Rivales
Airs and duets from JC Bach: La clemenza di Scipione; Cherubini: Démophoon; Dalayrac: Camille; J-F Edelmann: Ariane dans l’isle de Naxos; Gluck: La clemenza di Tito etc.; Grétry: L’embarras des richesses etc.; Monsigny: La belle Arsène; Persuis: Fanny Morna; Sacchini: Renaud
Sandrine Piau, Véronique Gens (soprano); Le Concert de la Loge/Julien Chauvin
Alpha Classics ALPHA 824   63:12 mins

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The title suggests two singers in direct competition. In fact the artists whose once glittering careers are celebrated on this disc – Madame Saint-Huberty (1756-1812) and Madame Dugazon (1755-1821) – essentially sang different kinds of roles in different repertoires at different theatres: the former was based at the Opéra, which specialised in the tragédie-lyrique, the latter at the Opéra-Comique, the home of lighter, mostly comic works; her name was later used to delineate two distinct vocal types she embodied at different times in her career.

Their careers and vocal characters are explored in the liner notes, but there’s nothing on the composers of the 11 items on the disc, let alone any context for individual items other than the sung texts. If you want to understand Pauline’s situation in Louis-Luc Loiseau de Persuis’s Fanny Morna (1799), you will need to look elsewhere. This is a problem, given that with the exception of ‘Divinités du Styx’ in Gluck’s Alceste, all of the items here are extremely obscure.

There are some highly dramatic pieces as befitting Saint-Huberty, some sentimental or lively ones associated with Dugazon, and a couple of duets amongst the arias. A good deal of the music is interesting.

Performances by two modern French singers of an almost identical age (in their mid-fifties) are perfectly decent but under-characterised, as if they had little more understanding of the dramatic contexts than the prospective purchaser. As a taster, it’s tantalising, but on another level – and despite some exciting orchestral playing and vital conducting – it’s frustrating.

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George Hall