Gounod needs style, charm
Charlus | NYC | 12/04/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Anybody who has heard one of the better Gounod songs sung by the likes of Reynaldo Hahn, Ninon Vallin, Charles Panzéra, Pierre Bernac or Gérard Souzay will know how extremely lovely and hard to sing they are!
They require a full technique-what Gérard Souzay has called "French bel canto"-to do justice to their delicate and elaborate melodies; a perfect sense of STYLE constructed on an idiomatic command of ennunciation; an elegant musicianship; last, but emphatically not least, they require CHARM, an elusive feeling impossible to coach.
Study a few of those older interpreters, and you will understand immediately, in a few measures, why some people-among them Maurice Ravel-thought Charles-Marie Gounod the father of French art song.
It is nice to have this collection by three respected British singers in superb, though somewhat overresonant, digital sound. They are musical, somewhat slack perfomances in high-school French. They totally lack any sense of what the music is about, however, or any of the sensuous elegance the music requires. The worst offender is the tenor, whose dry little voice-what is known in the operatic world as a tenorino comprimario-is completely lacking in charm or aural appeal. His Italian, in the Biondina cycle, is awful.
The women are a bit better, but sound none-too-young.
The pianist, who is the brain behind this whole series of Hyperion song recordings, is a good player with an ear for the lovely phrase, but tends to take everything far too slowly: the nascent love of the singer for the lovely Biondina, and his funereal lamentations for her demise, towards the end of the cycle, sound exactly alike! That is certainly NOT Gounod's fault.
Listen to Reynaldo Hahn's one recoding from this cycle, and you will understand immediately why this collection will really not do.
Some lovely work, although not idiomatic French and with ver
Ingrid Heyn | Melbourne, Australia | 06/01/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of the reviewers below truly does not like this collection. I can understand and do agree with some of his criticisms, but not with all.
Ann Murray is mostly in truly beautiful voice, especially on the first disc. No one would suggest her French is perfect (and it's not - it is very English), but her feeling (mostly) for the songs is often charming, and I enjoyed in particular her singing of "La pâquerette" and "Boléro", which moved in very sprightly fashion.
Anthony Rolfe Johnson's voice is inexplicably referred to by a reviewer below as a "dry little voice" and "completely lacking in charm or aural appeal". This is demonstrably not true - listen to the soundclips above, and you will hear a beautiful tenor voice in the classic modern English style. Anthony Rolfe Johnson has a sensitive approach, which admittedly does not always serve the music as well as it could, particularly where darker emotion is required or deeper passions could be shown - but goodness! The voice itself is delicious! Anything for which the requirement is a gorgeous sound and a feeling of tenderness is exactly what he does best.
(I must agree that his Italian is not good - it's very very British and makes scarcely an attempt at an Italian accent.)
Felicity Lott is my least favourite singer on this set. I particularly didn't like her first two offerings here - and I don't believe Ms Lott ever "gets" the style. Her French IS indeed heavily accented (school French is correct) - she liaises where she should, she follows the rules, but the flavour is always roast beef instead of crêpes Suzette. However, her voice is not ugly, and she certainly knows what she is singing. It's just that none of that knowledge really percolates into anything approaching the French style and an interpretation that reaches the listener. To understand what I mean, compare her version of "Mignon" with that sung by Sophie Marin-Dego on the CD "Vivent les vacances" - what a difference! (That album, by the way, is one I very highly recommend.)
The first CD of this set comprises only some of Gounod's French songs (sung by the two women), and the second CD consists entirely of the Biondina cycle (sung in Italian) and Gounod's "English" songs (sung in English). As Anthony Rolfe Johnson doesn't even sing any songs in French in this set, it's rather unfair to make any assumptions about his French. I thought the Biondina often sounded ravishing, and if I was left wishing for more urgency and variation in some of the songs in this cycle, that and the very English accent remain my sole caveats.
It was the English songs on this set that made me most uncomfortable. All three singers essay these songs in the rather bombastic style that has hamstrung English ballad singers throughout the last century. The "r"s are rolled (overly so); the approach is often coy and school-ma'am-ish; the timbres seem to slip into Savoy Opera G&S style... and in my opinion does not serve the music as well as would a more straightforward and elegant approach. It doesn't help that the lyrics are mostly pretty dreadful...! Why, oh why didn't Gounod use some better quality poetry?
Overall, it's undeniable that this is not a representation of French songs sung with impeccable French style. That's true. But the singing itself is often lovely, and certainly Graham Johnson's playing is beautiful - I do agree that the playing was sometimes stodgier than I felt it should be, but this reflects the tempi chosen by the singers.
In all, in spite of the stylistic lack and the English pronunciation of the French, this remains an often beautifully sung set, containing otherwise unavailable recordings of comparatively rare songs in the discography. (Why is Gounod so infrequently recorded? It is strange.) And for those reasons, this is a set worth having.
I would actually give this 3 and a half stars, but I do think 3 stars is a little unfair... so 4 stars let it be."