Poèmes

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Ravel/Messiaen/Dutilleux
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Poèmes
WORKS: Shéhérazade; Poèmes pour Mi; Le temps l’horloge
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming (soprano); Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Alan Gilbert
CATALOGUE NO: 478 3500

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‘Get drunk’. That’s the advice of ‘Enivrez-vous’, the final song of Henri Dutilleux’s recent Le temps l’horloge, but inebriation is superfluous after listening to this magnificent disc from Renée Fleming. Always a strong Francophile, she makes an inspired exploration of the still-developing French tradition. The disc spans just over a century of orchestral song, from Ravel’s exquisite exoticisms, via Messiaen to Dutilleux.

Dutilleux wrote Le temps l’horloge specifically for Fleming’s voice, and it is easy to hear what inspired him, in this audibly live recording of the world premiere. Her lower register has become ever-richer toned, yet fluid, while higher up her silken soprano remains undiminished. The cycle of four songs, with an orchestral interlude, is succinct in expression. There are some striking timbral moments, such as the harpsichord flourishes in the first song and a weary accordion in the third.

Fleming is utterly ravishing in Ravel’s Shéhérazade, and her performance of Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi is sensational. This music is as luxuriant as the Ravel, and both cycles are captured in warm sound. For once, here is a singer with the sumptuousness, character and burnished luminosity this score demands. Her control at the end of ‘L’épouse’ is effortless, yet there is no holding back, with fire and steel where needed. Gilbert would ideally elicit a touch more flexibility from the orchestra in places, but such half-caveats are fleeting. Fleming is simply intoxicating.

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Christopher Dingle