Composers: Berlioz, Ravel, Debussy/Adams
Compositions: Les Nuits d’été, Shéhérazade, Le livre de Baudelaire
Performers: Ian Bostridge t, Seattle SO/Morlot
Catalogue Number: Seattle Symphony Media SSM1021
Here’s a pleasing rarity. Les Nuits d’Été has been recorded with various voice types over the years – a recent lovely account from baritone Stéphane Degout lingers in my ear – but other than Villanelle, I cannot recall a tenor singing the whole cycle since Nicolai Gedda. As for Shéhérazade – “les dents de poule” as they say – and I was sceptical, but after hearing this it could become a fashion.
Such a text-aware singer as Bostridge relishes the poetry and colours the words without too many of the mannerist tics that can sometimes intrude on his phrasing of long lines. I expected to hear some evidence of wear and tear on the voice at this stage of his career but, other than a little dryness at the extremes, I am amazed how fresh he sounds here – a carefully nurtured instrument indeed. Susan Graham’s recording of John Adams’ orchestration of Debussy’s Le livre de Baudelaire is an old favourite and set the bar high, but Bostridge pulls it off – nice to see the work gaining a foothold in the small field of French orchestral song.
Morlot and the Seattle players provide clear-headed support with superb wind players eschewing wide vibrato for an authentic sonority. Morlot is a little rigid in the Berlioz but I’d rather a firm guiding grip than a flaccid fondle. Sound is transparent with the voice well forward for focus and clarity. A refreshing alternative and mandatory listening for those who especially love these magical ever-intriguing works.