In a program entirely dedicated to French baroque music, Gotfried von der Goltz and his Freiburger Barockorchester invited French soprano Véronique Gens to add some authentic flavour to the proceedings. A wise choice, for this repertoire is not really known this side of the Rhine and it is good to have a regular of William Christie’s and Marc Minkowski’s recordings to run to in case of doubt. In any case, Gens must have adopted the famous “In Rome do as Romans do”, for the final results were a bit Germanic – albeit in a very positive way. For example, the comparison with Cristophe Rousset’s recording of Lully’s Roland shows the French conductor far more dance-like and varied, while the Freiburgers added a straightforward and propulsive quality that made the orchestral “highlights” rather coherent somehow. One could not avoid the same impression that the German musicians were gutsier and more incisive in the excerpts from Rameau’s Dardanus when comparing it to Minkowski’s more flexible and sensuous recording (with Véronique Gens as well). Curiously, the tambourin twinset is surprisingly more exciting in Minkowski’s exhilaratingly fast account. Unfortunately, I cannot compare both conductors in Rebel’s Les caractères de la danse, for Minkowski’s CD is deleted from the catalogue, but I suspect that the French conductor would have stressed the contrasts between the dances more vividly. In any case, Goltz was a clear-toned and vivid soloist in Leclair’s Concerto for violin op 7 no. 5.
Véronique Gens sang two items in the program – Montéclair’s cantata “Le dépit généreux” and the arias from Dardanus. In the cantata, her irresistibly sensuous and velvety tone, immaculate sense of style and crystal-clear diction worked to perfection, the “emotional journey” – from despair to peace of mind – well characterized. If Julia Gooding is far less impressive in Florilegium’s recording, their accompaniment is warmer and more colourful in compensation. In the Rameau items, she sang even more beguilingly in a tessitura that allowed her more creamy top notes in more intense a context too. As an encore, the audience was treated to Lully’s Venez, haine implacable from Armide, where the Freiburgers proved to be far more exciting than Rousset in his video from Versailles (with Gens too, an omnipresence about which nobody feels like complaining).
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Seeing her live in Madrid singing Ravel´s Shéhérazade with such irresistible warm tone, aristocratic poise and looking so glamourous and feminine, I wonder WHY nobody has ever invited her for the Feldmarschallin. I know there is only one recording in which she sings a German text, but I think she should really think about it – and what about Schumann´s Liederkreis Op. 39?
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Although the Orquesta Nacional de España has labelled one series of concerts “Looking East”, the only obvious connection in the February 29th program is Ravel’s Shéhérazade. A text in the program book tries to explain the relation for Debussy´s La Mer, but even the author gives up when it comes to Schumann’s cello concerto op. 129.
Of course, the bizarre title has nothing to do with the music making itself. In the Schumann item, Steven Isserlis proved to be the cellists’ answer to Cecilia Bartoli – his intense playing goes beyond producing pretty sounds, but you still have to deal with a tone that is basically unnoble. I don’t know if Schumann would have expected the one-paroxism-per-second approach, but it definitely makes its point. Conductor Josep Pons, the orchestra’s musical director, fortunately could cope with the emotional approach without sacrificing polish – something he could not repeat in the Debussy piece. Maybe I am spoiled by the recent Carnegie Hall concert with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Mariss Jansons but, even if the ONE has rich strings, the over-extrovert approach brought about a stridence that – in my opinion – has nothing to do with this kind of music. The conductor looked for bombastics and marked dance-like rhythms that eschewed any sense of demi-tintes (and some clarity either).
It is most curious, though, that Pons could fnd again the necessary subtle shading for Ravel’s Shéhérazade, when he had an extraordinary soloist in Véronique Gens. You can call me an admirer, but I have to confess this was the best I have ever heard from her either live or in recordings. Her sensuous soprano gleamed from bottom to top and one could understand each vowel and consonant in the French text, treated to masterly tone-colouring, the most ethereal mezza-voce and full-toned velvetiness, as required in the first song. This was definitely one of the most perfect vocal performances I have heard live in a while – hence my disappointment with the audience’s tame reception.
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