Parfum: Christiane Karg sings works by Ravel and Britten

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COMPOSERS: Britten,Debussy,Duparc,Koechlin,Ravel
LABELS: Berlin Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Parfum
WORKS: Ravel: Shéhérazade; Britten: Quatre chansons françaises; plus songs by Debussy, Koechlin and Duparc
PERFORMER: Christiane Karg (soprano), Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/David Afkham
CATALOGUE NO: 0300832BC

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There are many scents in these settings of verse by Tristan Klingsor, Baudelaire, Victor Hugo and Verlaine: specific references to roses, blood, grass, sea and skin; allusions to sandalwood, cedarwood, spices, bergamot and tobacco. Through the close placing of the microphone in Shéhérazade, the listener is compelled to lean in, as though inhaling a fragrance, as Christiane Karg breathes into the repetitions of ‘Asie, Asie, Asie’.

Had a composer less fastidious than Ravel written and orchestrated these melodies, they would be accused of vulgarity. Happily the Bamberg musicians are too interested in the sheer, the precise and the subtle to stumble into cheap exoticism. The colours are sharper in Britten’s Quatre chansons françaises, the final chords beautifully taut. Though John Adams’s orchestration of Debussy’s Baudelaire songs veers towards Korngold in its brightness, the playing and singing remain restrained. Having set the thermostat low, David Afkham keeps the textures transparent while Karg sustains a steady gleam. Koechlin’s Épiphanie is deliciously intimate. Only the trio of Duparc mélodies feels like overkill, the pulse indulgent. A little too much perfume, perhaps.

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Anna Picard