Apart from several Massenet operas, the music of French composers has never been central to Renée Fleming's recorded repertoire. This disc of French orchestral songs spanning more than a century, including Ravel's Shéhérazade, Messiaen's Poèmes pour Mi, and Dutilleux's Sonnets de Jean Cassou and Le Temps l'horloge (which Fleming premiered in 2009), demonstrates the singer's absolute mastery of the music and its idioms. Her affinity for the subtlety of the language is evident in her languid, sensual performance of Shéhérazade. Fleming has not often been associated with modern music more progressive than André Previn's, but her performances of the Messiaen and Dutilleux offer proof of her remarkable versatility. Messiaen wrote Poèmes pour Mi for "grande soprano dramatique," which generally doesn't describe Fleming, but she draws on the luxuriant richness that she brings to Strauss to provide all the power and drama the songs call for. Messiaen doesn't make things easy for his singer, but Fleming is entirely persuasive in his treacherous, low-lying recitative (which she puts across with scary fierceness) as well his ecstatic, high-soaring arioso. This is especially evident in "Action des grâces," which begins with the first and ends with the second. The songs throb with Romantic passion but they are also are clearly products of the Messiaen's distinctive, sometimes brash, modernism and it's a measure of conductor Alan Gilbert's achievement that he doesn't stint on giving full expression to either strain. His balance of tenderness and ferocity, along with Fleming's luminous singing, makes this one of the most gripping recordings of the song cycle. Dutilleux, who wrote Le Temps l'horloge for the soprano between 2006 and 2009, knows how to make the voice sound fabulous and Fleming knows how to sell the songs, to bring the music to thrilling life. Seiji Ozawa leads Orchestra National de France in the live recording of the world premiere of that work. In the other pieces Gilbert conducts Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France. The conductors and the players convey an embodied understanding of this music and perform it with vibrant energy and nuance. Decca's sound is impeccable and beautifully balanced. Highly recommended for Fleming's admirers and anyone who loves French vocal music.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Poèmes pour Mi|
|Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou|
|Le Temps l'horloge|