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CD reviews

"Ombre de mon amant - French baroque arias"

Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzosoprano
Les Arts Florissants
Dir: William Christie

rec: Sept 2008, Paris, Église Notre-Dame du Liban
Archiv - 477 8610 (© 2010) (65'04")

Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1634-1704): Auprès du feu l'on fait l'amour, air (H 446); Celle qui fait mon tourment, air (H 450); Concert à 4 parties de violes (H 545): prélude; gigue angloise; gigue françoise; Médée, tragédie lyrique (H 491): ouverture; Princesse, c'est sur vous, air (II,2); Acte III, scènes 3-7; Michel LAMBERT (1610-1696): Ma bergère est tendre et fidèle; Ombre de mon amant; Vos mepris chaque jour; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU 1683-1764): Hippolyte et Aricie, tragédie lyrique: Cruelle mère des amours, prélude & air (III,1); Quelle plainte en ces lieux m'appelle, air (IV,4); Les Fêtes d'Hébé ou les Talens Lyriques, opéra-ballet: Vole Zéphire!, ariette (prol,4); air gracieux pour Zéphire et les Grâces (prol,5); tambourins I & II (I,8); air tendre, pour le Génie de Mars, La Victoire, chaconne (II,5)

This disc is first and foremost a vehicle for Anne Sofie von Otter to indulge in the French baroque repertoire. In the booklet she tells that she became acquainted with this music early in her career and that she fell in love with it when she sang her first role in a French opera. That is all very interesting, and her love for French baroque music is admirable and easy to understand. But this disc shows that her approach of this repertoire falls wide of the mark.

Singing excerpts from French operas is no mean task, since the ingredients of recitative, aria, choruses and dances are much more integrated in the overall concept than in Italian operas. The texts of the latter are largely interchangeable, and that makes it hardly necessary to explain the dramatic context in the booklet, as Kenneth Chalmers does in the booklet of this disc. Even so, the listener who isn't acquainted with the story of the various operas will have difficulty in understanding the reasoning behind the texts of the various arias.

There is no doubt that Anne Sofie von Otter's natural theatrical instinct makes her an ideal interpreter of opera repertoire. But here she seems completely misguided in the way she sings the excerpts from operas by Charpentier and Rameau. In most arias her approach is too Italianate, and that means that she mostly goes over the top. In the excerpts from Charpentier's Médée one of the members of the choir, Violain Lucas, sings the role of Nérine, and she does so more convincingly than Anne Sofie von Otter as Médée. Her approach may be theatrical - and rightly so - but the many recordings of French baroque operas show that there are different and stylistically more convincing ways to recreate this repertoire.

But, believe it or not, these operatic parts are the best part of this disc. The airs de cour by Michel Lambert and Marc-Antoine Charpentier are much worse. Some Von Otter treats as opera arias - which is wrong -, some sound like cabaret songs - which is even worse. The result is a caricature and a violation of the character of these highly sophisticated songs. And don't think that Von Otter's interpretation is expressive - the expression of these songs is severely underexposed. I have never heard such awful and - yes - boring performances of airs de cour.

The instrumental pieces from the operas are alright. But it is rather odd to take only three movements from Charpentier's Concert à quatre parties de violes. It is also odd to play them on violins, whereas the composer required a consort of viols. Incomprehensible is that one of the movements is played as orchestral music, with oboes playing colla parte with the violins. But it fits into the picture: here the music is used to make the performers shine.

For me this recording is a real stinker. The only award for this disc I can think of is the prix de citron.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Anne Sofie von Otter
Les Arts Florissants

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