To France With Feeling


Any recording by the great Dutch soprano Elly Ameling is cause for celebration. But when the repertoire is French, for which her voice and temperament were especially well suited, and the work as beloved as Berlioz's six songs cycle Les Nuits d'ete, found on the Robert Shaw and Atlantic Symphony Orhcestra release Berlioz: Les Nuits d'ete/Faure: Pelléas et Melisande, we are virtually guaranteed a memorable experience.

Telarc scored a major coup by recording Ameling and the ASO under Robert Shaw in 1983. Caught at the end of her prime, when the voice was still immaculately produced and exceptionally radiant, the soprano's communicative powers are at their height. She shines in the first song, "Villanelle," touches the heart in the graveyard songs, and bids adieu with a liltingly French, trés gai "L'ile inconnue." With several rare excursions into her chest voice, and soft tones that are especially irresistible at the conclusion of "Absence," Ameling's performance is filled with so many special moments as to explain why it easily earned a Grammy Award. No collection of French music can be considered complete without her rendition.

Two years later, Shaw welcomed Telarc back to record Fauré's incidental music for Materlinck's play Pelléas et Mélisande. Written four years before Debussy's opera of the same name, Fauré conducted the first nine performances in June and July of 1898. The third movement, "Sicilienne," is justly famous, having been appropriated as theme music for countless classical music radio broadcasts and the like. Making tunefulness his first priority, Shaw gives us a lovely performance.