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Véronique Gens - Nuits - The Guardian

Véronique Gens’s recording of Chausson’s Poème de l’Amour et la Mer was one of last year’s outstanding releases, and a song by Chausson also forms the centrepiece of her latest recital disc of (mostly) 19th-century French mélodies – his Chanson Perpétuelle, in the scoring with piano quintet. Gens and the chamber ensemble I Giardini perform it here, alongside Guillaume Lekeu’s similarly scored Nocturne and other songs arranged for the same combination. In some cases that requires only minor adjustments – Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson (from which Gens sings just one number, alas) already exists in a version for voice, piano and string quintet, and little is lost by dropping the double bass part, but elsewhere original piano accompaniments have been rescored to include strings.

Gens’s performances are as spellbinding as ever. It’s hard to think of another singer working today who is more compelling in this repertory, with every word crystal clear and every nuance of the text perfectly inflected. Yet it’s not so easy to reconcile oneself with the version here of L’Île Inconnue from Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été, where the thick string sound seems at odds with the buoyancy of the vocal lines, while the string parts added to Fauré’s Après un Rêve, floated so exquisitely by Gens, just seem unnecessary clutter. Saint-Saëns’s Désir de l’Orient works well enough, but then that is extracted from one of his operas (the one-act La Princesse Jaune) anyway, while it is good to hear one of Guy Ropartz’s Duparc-like Quatre Poèmes in any shape or form.

I Giardini punctuate the sequence with three purely instrumental numbers. There’s the cello-and-piano version of Liszt’s La Lugubre Gondola, and a couple of rarities - a nocturne by Fernand de la Tombelle, and the scherzo from a piano quintet by Charles-Marie Widor. None of them quite justifies its inclusion here, but then the whole premise of the disc never quite convinces either, though Gens’s sublime artistry goes a very long way to counter that.

The Guardian
23 April 2020