Fauré is one of those composers whose names have been made from just a handful of works, odd considering his considerable gifts. This release is a worthy dive into his back catalogue by conductor Ivor Bolton and the Sinfonieorchester Basel, who play with sensitivity and style. Hands up who’s heard his Caligula? Incidental music for a Dumas play, it’s unapologetically bombastic stuff with a film-score sheen. The players revel in it, dispatching the joyful dance-rhythms with flair and bringing a sinuous quality to the more intimate passages. The women of the Balthasar-Neumann-Chor are similarly splendid, captivating in the closing César a fermé la paupière, a brilliant example of Fauré’s gift for melody.
It’s followed by more incidental music, this time for a French adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, titled Shylock. It’s a fragmentary work that’s not entirely satisfying, but the striking Nocturne is beautifully played, and the two tenor solos are idiomatically performed by a sweet-toned Benjamin Bruns. The Prelude to Fauré’s little-performed opera Pénélope likewise gets a convincing reading, robustly played with moments of real delicacy.
The Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko features on a set of songs midway through the disc. Her rich voice does need some adjusting to in Fauré’s more tender pieces, but this doesn’t hamper the quality of her performances. The perfumed Les roses d’Ispahan is affecting, her conversational delivery and the dark glow of her instrument instantly bewitching. Soir and Clair de lune show an attention to text that’s very special, but just misses out on the languid quality that seems second nature to the French. Unfortunately, Après un rêve is given an unpoetic reading that leaves one cold, and she gets bogged down in its expansive lines.
Never fear, she rallies for a memorable Chanson de Mélisande, her English diction fine, her singing throbbingly expressive. The orchestra is also really special here. The Filieuse is not just beautiful but threaded through with agitation, while the Prelude is despatched with great eloquence. Much to savour.
Composition: Orchestral songs
Performer: Olga Peretyatko s,
Sinfonieorchester Basel/Ivor Bolton
Catalogue Number: Sony 19075818582