Marie-Nicole Lemieux. © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited

CD Spotlight

Masterfully Orchestrated

GEOFF PEARCE listens to Berlioz, Ravel and Saint-Saëns from Canadian soprano Marie-Nicole Lemieux

'... the soloist and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo conducted by Kazuki Yamada are on top form ...'


This very interesting disc contains the great Berlioz Les Nuits d'été, and Ravel's Shéhérazade, both of which I know very well and love, plus a work of Saint-Saëns that I didn't know - Mélodies Persanes.

The Berlioz work comprises six songs. This was the first Berlioz I ever heard, when it was presented by Kiri Te Kanawa in New Zealand, and it has remained a favourite work ever since. Marie-Nicole Lemieux's performances of this work have been widely lauded, and I was expecting great things, but I felt somewhat disappointed when I compared this recording against many others that I have heard. This is a work that has been recorded so often, and I have many favourites. My own personal favourite was one I heard very early on, and that is Janet Baker with the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli from 1967.

I found this latest recording somewhat colourless. It seemed not at all subtle, and in places the dynamics were overcooked and the voice somewhat shrill when pushed. Now this may be because of the recording techniques employed, but I also found the singer's vibrato annoyed me at times as the speed never seemed to vary. I enjoyed her singing in the quieter, slower songs, but would hesitate to recommend the recording of this work when I compare it to so many of the other recordings I have heard. I also found the orchestral palette somewhat bland when I compared it with some of the other great recordings I have heard. I know listening to music is subjective, and one man's food is often another man's poison, and there will be many listeners, I am sure, who will love this new recording.

Listen — Berlioz: Villanelle (Les Nuits d'été)
(5054197659409 track 1, 1:15-1:47) ℗ 2023 Parlophone Records Limited :

Saint-Saëns' Mélodies Persanes, Op 26, based on six poems of Renaud, is from a collection entitled Les Nuits Persanes. I felt this collection of six songs, a prelude and an interlude, fared very much better, and I enjoyed both the singer and the orchestral forces much more. Saint-Saëns does not use authentic Persian melodies but he does evoke an exotic middle Eastern atmosphere. Generally, this work is presented by a singer with piano.

I enjoyed Marie-Nicole Lemieux's voice, her phrasing as well as her intonation and her changes of colour, but still did find the vibrato not quite to my taste, and I felt mildly uncomfortable when the volume was at its loudest.

These songs are charming and I cannot help wonder why they are not performed and recorded more often than they are. The orchestral arrangement adds to the colour, and I have also enjoyed the voice and piano versions that I have heard.

Listen — Saint-Saëns: La solitaire (Mélodies Persanes)
(5054197659409 track 10, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2023 Parlophone Records Limited :

The final work is the songs comprising Ravel's Shéhérazade. This is one of my favourite works, written in 1904, and is based on three poems of Tristan Klingsor, a fellow member of 'Les Apaches' (The hooligans).

The three poems are entitled 'Asie', 'La Flûte Enchantée' and 'L'Indifferent'. The first song is the longest and the poet should like to see ... Arabia, India and lastly China before ending in his usual location. 'La Flûte Enchantée' depicts a slave girl tending her sleeping master, whereas the last one, 'L'Indifférent', depicts the poet trying to entice an androgenous young man into his (or her) house to drink. This song is one that has often been used to speculate on Ravel's own sexuality.

They are exotic, masterfully orchestrated, and are concert and recording favourites. This new recording does them justice, and both the soloist and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo conducted by Kazuki Yamada are on top form, producing a recording that I like very much and would highly recommend.

Listen — Ravel: La Flûte Enchantée (Shéhérazade)
(5054197659409 track 16, 0:00-0:54) ℗ 2023 Parlophone Records Limited :

All in all, for the Saint-Saëns and Ravel, I would heartily recommend this disc, but I have heard performances of the Berlioz that I do like better. It does boil down to personal taste, though, and this is a fine recording for any collection.

Copyright © 19 August 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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