Véronique Gens, Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, John Axelrod
Berlioz: Herminie, Les Nuits d'été; Ravel: Shéhérazade (Ondine)
Berlioz never came closer to the intimacy of chamber music than his popular six-song cycle Les Nuits d'été with texts from Théophile Gautier. Two buoyantly youthful songs flank the four at the cycle's core, where longing and reflection set the scenes inside Berlioz's spare orchestrations where one must never cross the line of sentimentality.
Soprano Véronique Gens captures the classically poised moods perfectly, never over-ecstatic and with a delicately nuanced partnership from the orchestra that makes one feel as if his or she were eavesdropping on some very personal happenings.
Ravel's Shéhérazade is more sumptuous an experience, of course. Gens' soaring yet yielding voice finds every colour and Axelrod is again on the same page, with flawless instinct in layering the orchestra's multifaceted role. Berlioz's rarely heard cantata Herminie contains the first use of the famous idée fixe theme from his later Symphonie fantastique. It's an effective scene of far-away love, beautifully done and highly recommended. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- James Manishen