2004, Music

Berlioz: Les Nuits d’Ete; Faure; Ravel (2004, Virgin Classics) by David Daniels, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris conducted by John Nelson, et al

I have always sort of been annoyed by our collective obsession with vocalists. The human voice is indeed a powerful instrument, but it is hardly the only instrument out there. And I always am mystified when I see releases credited to vocalists when that vocalist isn’t even present on every track.

Now, the music here is intended to feature a vocalist but there are moments that do not and one piece that does not include vocals at all. Why feature it under a vocalists name? It doesn’t make any sense!!!!!

Alright, I’m over it. Now, the real review begins:

Frankly I don’t know why we’re all so obsessed with recording the orchestrated versions of art song cycles and sets. It’s kind of annoying how hard it is to find the original versions of these things. We always get the orchestra versions, and this recording is no exception. I don’t know this music well enough to claim one is superior to the other, but I know that music criticism orthodoxy generally has it that the original piano versions are to be preferred. That being said:

I like the Berlioz cycle (“Les nuits d’ete”) as much as I like any mid-19th century French vocal music. It’s sort of of place with everything else here, but it’s a nice piece. The excerpt from Les Troyens doesn’t belong; it is a pet peeve of mine that operas continue to get chopped up like this. (In this day and age! With unlimited time constraints for music releases!)

I can find virtually no record of the “Cinq melodies populaires grecques” anywhere and I can understand why they have disappeared from the canon. This is among Ravel’s less interesting work, and perhaps the fact that he didn’t even orchestrate these himself has something to do with it.

I would prefer to hear the piano version of “Pavane pour une Infante d’efunte” but this is exactly the type of music I think of when I think of early Ravel (excepting “Bolero” of course.)

The really annoying thing about this collection is the inclusion of a selection of three melodies by Faure, which have just been arbitrarily collected by some dude; I have no idea why. (Actually I do: same poet.) If we are going to attack our historical composers radically, we should at least be radical about it and not arbitrary. Why not include the whole cycle the first two songs are culled from and drop the Berlioz excerpt??

Faure’s Elegy is totally out of place here, but it’s a strong piece that I feel is a classic for the instrument (cello).

It’s a shame that there’s good music here, because the presentation is arbitrary and bizarre.


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