Les nuits d'été (H. 81):
I. Villanelle 00:00
II. Le spectre de la rose 02:09
III. Sur les lagunes 08:41
IV. Absence 14:43
V. Au cimitière 20:21
VI. L'île inconnue 25:51
Berlioz, Hector (1803-69) -composer
Kiri Te Kanawa -soprano
Daniel Barenboim -conductor
Orchestre de Paris
Playlist "The art of French song: Faure, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc, Satie...": http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdM8VSWYvcWGecjk_VR0LNMYlVs05efWQ
This is a cycle of six settings of poems written by Théophile Gautier. Though their subjects have little direct connection, each possesses the sultry, scented charm implied by Berlioz's title. The songs were composed in 1832 and published in 1841. Except for "Absence," which was orchestrated in 1843, the orchestral versions of the remaining songs were completed in 1856.
Aside from their immediate appeal, they suggest that, before the rise of a new school of composers such as Fauré, Duparc, Debussy, and Ravel, Berlioz was reacting to a demand for songs of a distinctively French character, compared with the then-widely popular German lied. However, the American musicologist Alfred Einstein's assertion that Berlioz "sowed the seeds for the entire musical lyricism of the nineteenth century in the French language" is surely an exaggeration: he was too much an admirer of German music to do such a thing. Indeed, the first song "Villanelle" is almost strophic, only the third stanza showing any real harmonic or melodic changes in the vocal line, a device which makes it reminiscent of Schubert.
Singers tend to pick and choose among the songs performed but, since all easily stand on their own merits, this does not matter a great deal. "Absence," a call for the return of the beloved, would, for example, make an impressive opening to the cycle. "Le spectre de la rose" (I am the ghost of the rose you wore at the ball) is operatic in character and avoids the obvious waltz rhythms used in the ballet music that was also inspired by this poem. "Sur la lagunes," a lament for a dead lover, was also set by Fauré under the title Chanson de pêcheur. Berlioz makes it into a barcarolle, with a flowing accompaniment and echoes of Spain and Italy. "Au cimetiere" (the churchyard where the beloved lies) is a lament, with the added dimension of modern-sounding semitone changes and enharmonic modulations - evidence of Berlioz's constant search for ways to distance himself from conventional tonality. The final song, "L'ile inconnue," a light serenade, (where will you go, fair one in my magic boat) is - apart from one rather awkward cadence just before the lady replies - similarly progressive in its tonality. The tenderly expressive qualities of these settings makes one wish that Berlioz had continued his dedication to French poetry.
Buy the CD here: http://www.deccaclassics.com/en/cat/4109662