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Poemes

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Audio CD, March 6, 2012
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All singing is a kind of storytelling, and Renée Fleming, whose vast repertoire includes many works demonstrating the breadth and richness of the French tradition, is no stranger to the particular skills required of the art. Scheherazade, as she is usually spelt in English, was the teller of the Tales of the Arabian Nights, whose prowess at inventing stories enabled her to survive a Sultan's cruel decree for 1001 nights - and thereafter, presumably, live happily ever after. In 1888, the Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a colourful orchestral suite celebrating her and some of her stories, which Maurice Ravel would certainly have known when, in 1898, he began an opera about her. Nothing seems to survive of that unfinished work apart from the overture, which is entirely separate from the group of three orchestral songs the composer wrote five years later. Ravel's Shéhérazade dates from his early maturity and its lush yet subtle harmony and refined if occasionally overwhelming orchestration are typical of the magic this delicate human being could create with his powerful art. They are settings of a poet whose real name was Léon Leclère (1874-1966), but whose pen name, which combined the hero of one of Wagner's operas with the villain of another, was Tristan Klingsor. The cycle was first performed in Paris in May 1904. The first song conjures up a vision of Asia, an Asia of the imagination drawn from picture books and fairy tales and including mystery, violence, beauty, eroticism, and a variety of perfumed scenes from Syria, Persia, India and China as if visited on a flying carpet. The second, La Flûte enchantée, begins with the tones of the instrument. The singer is listening to it from inside a house where her master is asleep. She is a servant, and her lover, outside, plays the flute. In the final song, L'Indifférent, a young man of ambivalent sexuality strolls attractively by a house from where the singer watches and invites him in. But he merely passes on, with a graceful gesture. Olivier Messiaen composed Poèmes pour Mi for his first wife, the violinist and composer Claire Delbos. They had met at the Paris Conservatoire, where both were students, and soon they were giving recitals together. They married on St Cecilia's Day (22 November) 1932. "Mi" was the composer's pet name for his wife. Messiaen went on to compose, in 1936, this cycle of nine songs to his own texts - both intimately personal and religious - celebrating their happiness. They were originally for voice and piano; he created an orchestral version the following year. With its immediacy and blend of simplicity with voluptuousness, the cycle has become one of his most performed works. Tragically, towards the end of the Second World War, Mme Messiaen's health declined. Following an operation she lost her memory and was hospitalised, remaining in institutions until her death in 1959. Together with the Chants de terre et de ciel (1938), which also celebrates the Messiaens' son Pascal, the Poèmes remain as a moving testimony to the short-lived happiness of the composer's first marriage. Messiaen himself died in 1992 at the age of eighty-three. His colleague Henri Dutilleux, eight years his junior, is fortunately still with us. His relatively small output is of consistent quality and imagination, as audiences both in France and elsewhere are increasingly appreciating. The recipient, especially in recent years, of several major awards - notably the Ernst Siemens Prize (2005), the Prix Midem (2007), an honorary fellowship from Cardiff University and the Gold Medal of London's Royal Philharmonic Society (both 2008) - Dutilleux is now attracting the widespread attention he has so long merited. He too studied at the Paris Conservatoire and later taught there, also enjoying an important professional relationship as Head of Music Production for French Radio from the end of the war until 1963. A member of no school, and not tied to any particular system of composition, Dutilleux has created a highly individual and distinguished aeuvre, indebted to a degree to his forebears Debussy and Ravel, but also occasionally lightly shaded by the experience of jazz. A master of the orchestra, he has composed two symphonies as well as two major concertos - one for cello (written for Rostropovich) and one for violin (for Isaac Stern) - in addition to piano music and chamber works. Vocal music has figured infrequently in his output, but the small selection of his works for voice clearly demonstrates the high quality of his musical thought. His first extant songs (Dutilleux has withdrawn some earlier examples) are the Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou, composed in 1954 for voice and piano but later orchestrated. Cassou (1897-1986) was a museum curator who joined the French Resistance in 1940 when dismissed from his post by the Vichy government. His Thirty-Three Sonnets Composed in Secret (from which Dutilleux selects two) were created during his subsequent imprisonment, though not then written down as he was denied the means to do so; they were clandestinely published under the pseudonym Jean Noir in 1944 and their writer later received the Croix de Guerre. Dutilleux returned to vocal composition for the important orchestral cycle Correspondances, premiered by Dawn Upshaw and the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle in 2003, and has more recently been inspired by the voice and artistic personality of Francophone soprano Renée Fleming to compose Le Temps l'horloge - four songs plus an interlude positioned between the last two (2006-09). The first performance of the complete cycle was given by Fleming at the Théâtre des Champs-É́lysées, Paris, with the Orchestre National de France under Seiji Ozawa, on 7 May 2009. The work employs a large orchestra with a couple of unusual additions - harpsichord and accordion - used with Dutilleux's regular selectivity and subtlety. His choice of poets is again characteristic. The first two songs - Le Temps l'horloge and Le Masque - set words by Jean Tardieu, a poet and musician alongside whom Dutilleux worked for many years at Radio France. Unusually, the interlude is also associated with a text - Tardieu's prose poem Le Futur antérieur - though it does not set it. The text of Le Dernier Poème is by the Surrealist Robert Desnos, another member of the French Resistance, who died in the Nazi concentration camp at Terezín (Theresienstadt) in 1945. Finally, Dutilleux turns to his beloved Baudelaire, whom he cites as a major influence on his creativity and whose work also provided the title for his cello concerto, Tout un monde lointain. Enivrez-vous is one of Baudelaire's posthumously published Petits Poèmes en prose, urging the necessity for a drunken (presumably meaning thoroughly uninhibited) approach to life in all its aspects. George Hall

Review

"Her performance has a grace and charisma that are quite winning . . . [there is] a melting beauty in her middle register that is especially well-suited to Strauss' melodic line . . . Fleming is at her best here, bringing to life the poignant dilemma of a woman who must choose between two suitors and in doing so pronounce a verdict on their art." -- Washington Post, 29 March 2011 (Concert review Capriccio)
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Digital Booklet: Renée Fleming - Poèmes - Ravel, Messiaen, Dutilleux
Digital Booklet: Renée Fleming - Poèmes - Ravel, Messiaen, Dutilleux
Album Only

Product Details

  • Orchestra: Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre National de France
  • Conductor: Alan Gilbert, Myung-Whun Chung, Daniele Gatti, Seiji Ozawa
  • Composer: Maurice Ravel, Henri Dutilleux, Olivier Messiaen
  • Audio CD (March 6, 2012)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Decca Records
  • ASIN: B006Z94AQU
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #122,341 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Santa Fe Listener HALL OF FAME on March 6, 2012
Format: Audio CD
It must have taken all of Renee Fleming's clout to persuade a major label to record French orchestral songs, doubly so when two of the composers, Messiaen and Dutilleux, are modern. One expects that fleming's opera fans will stay away in droves. But whatever popularity this CD gains, it's among her very best, and at age 53 she enjoys the good vocal fortune, as did de los Angeles, of sounding young and seductive. In fact, Fleming's account of Ravel's often-recorded Sheherazade sounds at moments uncannily like de los Angeles - both a trembling and almost breathless, girlish and voluptuous at the same time. Fleming seems fully at home in French (although the printed claim that she is a Francophone belies the fact that she was born in Indiana and went to college in New York).

The Messiaen song cycle, Poemes pour Mi (Mi being the nickname of his first wife), dates form the Thirites, which means that it is written in a post-Debussy idiom before Messiaen became Messiaen. That doesn't imply conservatism. The agitated "Epouvante" ("Terror") portrays a kind of nauseous fear using a slippery, exotic sound palette that the mature Messiaen would famously extend even further. But most of the nine poems celebrate a sense of loving calm with religious overtones. Melody is not the cycle's strong point - it takes off from the sing-song style of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande, often repeating the same note or remaining within a narrow band. Amazingly, Fleming performed the Messiaen as part of a PBS broadcast from Lincoln Center; such events are generally restricted to standard fare. Alan Gilbert conducted then and repeats here with the Orchestre Philharmonique of French Radio (one of the country's most forward-looking ensembles under their music director Myung-Whun Chung).
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It is so exciting when a recording accomplishes something new and interesting. This is the case with the beautiful and exceedingly interesting album. The lush and beautiful Ravel and the more "modern" Messian and the fantastically beautiful Dutilleux. We are lucky that there is an artist with the stature in the business to pull off such an album at a time when the recording industry in such flux and confusion. Thank you Renee! You have done the music world a great service.
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Few singers have the staying power as Renee Fleming who continues to add roles to her operatic repertoire that are challenging and still pay attention to the music for voice and piano as well as for voice and orchestra that allow her to stretch her wings even more broadly. This CD of French music is breathtakingly beautiful. Fleming sings this difficult collection of songs with orchestra with complete ease, as if each song was just a simple encore. They, of course, are not encore in nature. These are song cycles and episodes that require not only a voice capable of feats of daring but also demand the setting of moods - and Fleming succeeds on all levels.

The first cycle offered is Maurice Ravel's sensuous Shéhérazade with Alan Gilbert conducting the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Fleming floats these poems with the passion and sexuality they deserve. The poems are by Tristan Klingsor: (Asie, La flûte enchantée, and L'indifférent), breathe here both in the voice and in Gilbert's orchestral shimmer. The second cycle Poèmes pour Mi is by Olivier Messiaen and require the vocalist to find that exotic, mystical realm Messiaen inhabited. These are difficult songs but Fleming approaches them ecstatically and with fine vocalism. Gilbert again conducts.

The final cycle is a world premiere recording - Henri Dutilleux's Le Temps L'Horloge, a work written for Fleming and performed here in tandem with Dutilleux's Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou (Dutilleux requested these songs be included). These Dutilleux works are the least known and bear no comparison, but if what Fleming does with these songs is under the guidance of the composer then they likely will remain definitive. The Orchestre National de France is conducted by Seiji Ozawa.
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This album has way too little to do with ‘opera’, albeit sung by a leading operatic soprano, but consists of 20th-century French song cycles, of which only one, Ravel's Shéhérazade, could be described as traditional diva territory. For a singer so attuned to the undulating tones of the French language, Renée Fleming has recorded relatively little Gallic repertoire apart from the Massenet operas.
Dutilleux, who wrote Le Temps l'horloge–an exquisite meditation on the dichotomy between time measured and time experienced subjectively – for the soprano Renee Fleming between 2006 and 2009, knows how to make the voice sound fabulous, and Fleming knows how to bring out the songs to thrilling life. Seiji Ozawa leads Orchestra National de France in the live recording of the world premiere of that work back in 2009.
In the other pieces Alan Gilbert conducts Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France in studio recordings.
The conductors and the players convey an embodied understanding of this music and perform it with vibrant energy and nuance. Decca's sound is impeccable and beautifully balanced.
Messiaen's mystico-erotic Poèmes pour Mi was the property of contemporary music singers until recently. Also included is Dutilleux’s Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou, which Fleming took into her repertory at Dutilleux's request. The Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou was written for voice and piano in 1954, but now orchestrated by the composer especially for this recording.
The album is exquisitely assembled and rarely recorded, but also has its share of problems. Le Temps L'Horloge was taped at its 2009 premiere with the Orchestre National de France conducted by Seiji Ozawa.
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