single play

Berlioz: Nuits d'ete; Herminie Soloists, Orchestre des Champs-Elysees / Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901522); Respighi: La Primavera; etc Soloists, Slovak Philharmonic Chorus, Slovak RSO / Adriano (Marco Polo 8.223595)

Berlioz: Vocal works

I'm tempted to call this Nuits d'ete miraculous. As with all miracles, there will be some who refuse to believe in it. Berlioz's most sumptuous, subtly perfumed score played on original instruments, with a singer who uses vibrato sparingly rather than just switching it on at the start and off at the end? Fogeys young and old will already have damned it to hell. For me, it's gorgeous - as sheer sound, or as dream-like landscape realised in music - with Brigitte Balleys an outstandingly musical, communicative singer.

The early cantata Herminie may not be a jewel of comparable price, but it has its fine moments, finely sung and played, and it's fascinating to hear the famous "idee fixe" theme in pre-Symphonie Fantastique guise - it feels like a completely different idea. Recording tone and balance could hardly be more finely judged. SJ

Respighi: La Primavera; etc

Spring came to Respighi early in January 1919 when he and his ex-pupil Elsa were married. La Primavera was a little something for the bottom drawer. "God, 'an infant with innocent looks like those of a man in love', offers Spring and its mystery of love to his creatures, who all receive it as the gift of Life." Cue this protracted hymn of thanksgiving: for sun, for spring, for all living things.

La Primavera is symphonic poem, lyric cantata, operatic hybrid - Respighi at his most flagrantly (or is that fragrantly?) effusive. No direct translations are provided of the Armenian texts, but the heavy scent of the music leaves little to the imagination. Spring is sprung in a profusion of tremolo, glissando and arabesque effects, an orchestral interlude in Respighl's headiest Romanesque colours (piano, four hands, lends a distinctive ripple- effect); a lyric tenor gives voice to youthful longings, an old man (bass) remembers; birdsong and blossom are synonymous with sexual awakening (naturally); and first love (a duet what else?) has the ring of impressionistic Puccini. The final hymn sits somewhere between Delius's Mass of Life and Schoenberg's Gurrelieder.

All of which is a far cry indeed from the Quattro liriche su poesie popolari armene (transcribed here for a small folk-inspired ensemble): ancient airs born of ecclesiastical chants, ornate and yet infinitely pure. Elsa Respighi herself sang them. ES

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