Soile Isokoski Sings Works by Berlioz, Chausson and Duparc

John Storgårds conducts the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

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COMPOSERS: Berlioz,Chausson,Duparc
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Berlioz • Chausson • Duparc
WORKS: Chausson: Poème de l’amour et de la mer; Duparc: Le manoir de Rosemonde; L’invitation au voyage; Chanson triste
PERFORMER: Soile Isokoski (soprano); Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1261-2

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Soile Isokoski and John Storgårds take on two French orchestral song-cycles often linked by their Romantic, sensuous exoticism, adding some Duparc songs in a very similar vein. Actually, though, they’re quite different in style. The Berlioz is more varied, a series of songs mirroring the moods of Theophile Gautier’s verse, and it repays a lieder-style sense of detail in both word and expression. This Isokoski certainly has, and it’s the more successful performance of the two. The later Poème de l’amour et de la mer, heavily influenced by Tristan, floats the vocal line across a surging, shifting orchestral swell, depicting a passionate lover helplessly adrift amid the uncaring force of Nature. Isokoski makes much heavier weather of this.

Her French is fine, but not fluent enough to smooth out an ideally silky line, nor is her bright soprano rich-toned enough to merge well with the lusher orchestration; the recording sometimes seems to half submerge her. It’s deeper, darker, even mezzo tones that have created the best versions – Kathleen Ferrier, Janet Baker, Jessye Norman, Susan Graham – and often of the Berlioz also. And while Storgårds conducts with unusually clean-cut clarity, he lacks the voluptuous energy and warmth of Pierre Monteux and John Barbirolli.

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The Duparc songs suit Isokoski best, capturing their ‘luxe, calme et volupté’. Michael Scott Rohan