Composers: Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner
Compositions: Songs
Performers: Stephanie d’Oustrac ms,
Pascal Jourdan
Catalogue Number: Harmonia Mundi HMM902621

Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner offer a microcosm of Romanticism, of song steeped in Schubert and Schumann, but standing on the cusp of something altogether larger and more sensual. That the works – Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été and La Mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and songs by Liszt – are heard not in their orchestrations but with piano accompaniment adds to this sense of composers developing a still essentially classical form.

French mezzo Stéphanie d’Oustrac makes a virtue of a voice with many different shades. Smoky-soft at the top, with a middle-range heavy with vibrato that can snarl or purr, and an androgynous, travesti directness to the very lowest register, it all serves this repertoire well, taking us from the sustained melodic intensity of Wagner’s proto-Tristan Im Treibhaus to the blush-pink froth of Berlioz’s Villanelle.

It’s a treat to hear both versions of Liszt’s Freudvoll und Leidvoll – first thoughts (1844) demonstrative and busy, while the second (1861) is a single, taut line of emotion (Pascal Jourdan’s accompaniment is understated but never blank). And if there’s not quite enough generosity of tone through the Wesendonck Lieder, the mercurial fragility of Berlioz’s Ophelia more than makes up for it.

Inevitably, Berlioz provides all the highlights here. D’Oustrac wears Nuits d’Été like a second skin, and those cries of “J’arrive!” that close Le Spectre de la Rose vibrate with ecstatic urgency.

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