French soprano Chantal Santon Jeffery’s latest album is a classy celebration of the composers associated with the Paris Opéra. There are the usual suspects, like Rameau and Leclair, but also less well-known figures like Gervais and Cardonne as well. Teaming up with frequent collaborators, the conductor György Vashegyi and his Orfeo Orchestra, this program of 24 French arias and nine short orchestral works is a real pleasure and a wonderful introduction to Santon Jeffery.
Undoubtedly becoming one of the most compelling singers in this repertoire, the soprano is as enchanting as ever. Every word is crystal clear and there are such subtle, surprising inflections of text in the least likely of places. Like her compatriot Véronique Gens, there’s an austere quality to her sound that’s not at all unattractive. Rather, it brings out the dark roundness of her voice, with its shimmering upper register and russet middle. What’s more, she shares Gens’ tonal warmth and flexibility, both qualities on ample show in this program.
Highlights include Courez à la victoire from Rameau’s Dardanus, excelling in the tricky ornamentation and displaying an astonishingly limpid legato line. Also impressive is the aria Dieu des amants from Mondonville’s opéra-ballet Les Fêtes de Paphos, Santon Jeffery singing from the perspective of the nymph Erigone, who is besotted with Bacchus. She gives voice to the nymph’s pleas with both unforced sincerity and immediacy, infusing it with a sense of melancholy that’s truly affecting. Equally powerful is the soprano’s ardent account of the scena from Cardonne’s Omphale, in which she sings of dying from “love and sorrow”.
For vocal fireworks, and something more upbeat, look no further than the track which gives the album its name. Brillez, astres nouveaux from Rameau’s Castor et Pollux is dispatched with sparkling coloratura but real delicacy too.
Title: Brillez, astres nouveaux!
Works: French Baroque Arias
Performers: Chantal Santon Jeffery s, Orfeo Orchestra, Purcell Choir, Gyorgy Vashegyi
Label: Aparté AP223