HIGH RESOLUTION AUDIO A GRAMOPHONE GUIDE
is first rate, so I predict a potential Gramophone Awards nominee for 2019. Fingers crossed. Rob Cowan
Andrew Everard writes A wonderfully delicate and almost ethereal opening to the Bartók, giving way to great orchestral power and almost breathless intensity, and beautiful detail and insight in the intricacies of the Enescu, with both the focus and the sheer dynamics of the sound greatly enhanced in the 96kHz/24bit Qobuz download. Another perfect example of what ‘beyond’ CD resolution can bring to a ine recording, and the way in which more information can heighten musical enjoyment.
Bizet Les pêcheurs de perles Julie Fuchs sop .................................................................... Leïla Cyrille Dubois ten ............................................................. Nadir Florian Sempey bar .........................................................Zurga Luc Bertin-Hugault bass-bar ................................. Nourabad Les Cris de Paris; Lille National Orchestra / Alexandre Bloch Pentatone F b Í PTC5186 685 (110’ • DDD/DSD) Recorded live at the Nouveau Siècle, Lille, May 9 11, 2017 Includes synopsis, libretto and translation
Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers was much maligned for years. Writing in Le Figaro after its 1863
premiere, Benjamin Jouvin dismissed it as a ‘noisy orgy’, declaring: ‘There were neither fishermen in the libretto nor pearls in the music.’ Later, George Bernard Shaw thought it ‘a waste of time and energy’. Only Hector Berlioz, writing in the Journal des débats, found merit in the opera: ‘The score for Les pêcheurs de perles does Monsieur Bizet credit … arias and duets full of fire and great richness of colour.’
The initial run lasted just 18 performances before the opera fell into oblivion. It was only after Bizet’s death that his publisher Choudens wanted to cash in on the success of Carmen by resurrecting his earlier operas. Pearl Fishers was butchered about and reorchestrated, with new numbers added (including a trio composed by Benjamin Godard), and an ending tacked on where Zurga is killed. Notoriously, that famous duet was revised to bring back the big tune at the close, a version which – admittedly – sounds terrific in concert and established it, largely though the Jussi Björling/Robert Merrill recording, as one of opera’s best-loved numbers. But as Brad Cohen (whose own edition was performed at ENO and is used on a Chandos in English disc of highlights) points out, the original version’s ‘intimacy and refinement create a quite different atmosphere from the noisy peroration of the posthumous version’.
The tide began to turn in the 1970s, when Arthur Hammond orchestrated sections of the original score which had since been cut. The 1863 version was recorded by Georges Prêtre for EMI in 1977. The autograph score is privately owned, so the best musicologists can do is refer to the conducting score – written over six staves – to get closest to Bizet’s original ideas about orchestration. Swiftly following on from Cohen’s detective work for Edition Peters, Hugh Macdonald’s 2014 reconstruction was published by Bärenreiter, and this is the version used in this splendid new recording on Pentatone, recorded in concert in Lille in May 2017.
Dramatically, the libretto is weak, its plot of two friends in rivalry for the same woman (now a veiled virgin priestess) hinging on the recognition of a necklace. Happily, we don’t have to take these considerations into a recording. Alexandre Bloch conducts the Orchestre National de Lille in a vivid account of the score, with muscular playing driving the faster music (a terrific storm) and the exotic dance numbers, while finding the necessary delicacy for the opera’s heady lyricism. There are fabulous contributions from the excellent chorus, Les Cris de Paris, as the villagers of the Ceylonese pearl-fishing community.
But it’s the casting of the central trio of characters where this recording triumphs, with no grit in the musical oyster. Pearl Fishers hasn’t fared especially well on disc and there are very few that stand up well to scrutiny. Arguably, you have to go back to 1953 for the finest Nadir and Leïla, French-Canadian husband and wife Léopold Simoneau and Pierrette Alarie. Until now. Cyrille Dubois is an outstanding Nadir. He floats his light tenor with honeyed ease in ‘Je crois entendre encore’, the high B natural at the end exquisitely placed. Easily the loveliest bit of singing I’ve heard all year. Julie Fuchs’s Leïla is no less delectable. Leïla’s Act 2 aria ‘Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre’ is beautifully sung, as delicate as Ileana Cotruba∞ (for Prêtre) and less ‘mooning’ in manner than Janine Micheau (for Pierre Dervaux), warmed by gentle vibrato. Fuchs is far from a wilting flower, though, with just enough steel after her pleas to Zurga to save Nadir’s life only to inflame his jealousy.
Zurga is often the weak link on disc, with several woolly baritones on display, the worst of which is the throaty Guillermo Sarabia for Prêtre. Florian Sempey is a superb Zurga here, his lithe baritone strong enough to make him a charismatic leader, shaping his Act 3 aria sensitively as Zurga despairs that his friend is condemned to die at dawn. Sparks fly in his encounter with Fuchs’s Leïla. With Luc Bertin-Hugault’s sturdy high priest, it’s as fine a cast as has been assembled for a recording of Les pêcheurs de perles and immediately claims top spot on my shelves. Mark Pullinger Selected comparisons: Dervaux (6/62R) (ERAT) 9029 59348-1 Prêtre (5/78R) (EMI) 5857614-2; (CFP/WARN) 367702-2 Fournet (10/81R) (PHIL) 462 287-2PM2 Andrew Everard writes A ine, dramatic recording of The Pearl Fishers, with power and drama in the orchestra and some ine performances, brought out even more vididly in the 96kHz/24bit download. Recorded by the ever-reliable Pentatone team, the sound has both space and a ine impression of ambience, heightening the ‘action’, and with a marked lack of arti ice or ‘spotlighting’ of individual performers.
Brahms Four Symphonies Berlin Staatskapelle / Daniel Barenboim DG B d 483 5251 (179’ • DDD)
What a difference an orchestra makes: an orchestra, mind you, that has been nurtured and honed for the best part of a quarter of a century in music it was born to play.
The Berlin Staatskapelle is an opera orchestra that also plays concerts, which explains why, when Daniel Barenboim inherited the Berlin State Opera in 1992, Beethoven was a priority as well as Wagner. Now it is Brahms’s turn in a cycle of the four symphonies of rare pedigree and worth.
The recordings were made in Berlin’s newest hall, the 700-seat Pierre Boulez Saal of the Barenboim-Said Akademie. The blend of clarity, intimacy and power the engineers have been able to achieve here fits the lustre and glow of these Staatskapelle performances like a glove.
This is Barenboim’s second recorded Brahms cycle. The first was with the Chicago Symphony in 1993, just two years after he inherited the orchestra from Georg Solti. If the Chicagoans had once boasted a distinctive Brahms sound, it had long gone; textures had become glossy, rhythms streamlined, with little room for the kind of indwellings Brahmsians of the old German school would have taken as a given.
Compare the fierce and generally joyless Chicago account of the finale of the Second Symphony with the new Berlin version, where the music bides its time, rhythms are gently sprung and the stage is properly set for the symphony’s culminating hallelujahs. Or compare the deep ochre of the Berlin cellos and the speaking beauty of their phrasing at the start of the symphony’s slow movement with the rather swifter Chicago performance, where the phrasing has the feel of painting by numbers.
8 GRAMOPHONE JULY 2019 | gramophone.co.uk
Click on an album cover to buy/stream from