Reviews for IPCD 1085-2
RÉGINE CRESPIN: Rare Broadcast Recordings • Régine Crespin (sop) • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1085 (2 CDs: 153:30)
September / October 2017
Invaluable supplements to studio recordings meet rarities in this radiant set dedicated to the work of the great Régine Crespin. And as to Crespin, I have an embarrassing story to tell which, who knows, may interest some. A long time ago (the 1980s) when I was attending Hallé subscription concerts in Manchester, Janet Baker was due to sing Chausson. The anticipation had been huge, as here was a great singer that I was to hear for the first time. Baker cancelled however, and the replacement was one Régine Crespin, a singer I had never even heard of at that point in my life. All I remember is excerpts from Carmen, Crespin’s imperial bearing, and her huge voice (I was sitting not too many feet away from her, right at the front). That was my introduction to the art of this singer.
Now here is a treasure-trove of recordings that add to our knowledge of her, complete with introductions in French (which include some very idiosyncratic German pronunciations of song titles). The Strasbourg Schumann op. 39 Liederkreis is a gem of a performance. Her eloquence is notable, but also her fragile vocal demeanor in “Intermezzo,” the second song, is tender in the extreme. Her pianist, John Wustman, is clearly an excellent player but not quite in Crespin’s league. Together, though, they trace the peaks and troughs of “Waldesgespräch,” and there is a nice rhythmic spring to “Im Walde.” But perhaps it is the way Crespin spins a melodic line in “Mondnacht” that is most memorable of all.
When it comes to Hugo Wolf, there can be few more unpredictable composers. Crespin captures the freshness of Fussreise to perfection, while Der Gärtner could easily be a fairy tale from Crespin’s way of narration. To close the group, there is a fabulously unbuttoned Ich hab’ in Penna einen Liebsten. The challenging piano part to this last-named song is bravely negotiated by Wustman. There is wit, too, when Crespin comes to her home territory of French chanson, in Poulenc’s Le carafon (in which a carafe asks why it cannot have a baby carafe, like a giraffe has a baby giraffe). Crespin negotiates the slightly surreal, high-speed delivery Fêtes galante to perfection, while Wustman provides his finest playing yet in the delicate, Debussian chords of Hôtel (here, too, Crespin creates magic through floated phrases). There is perhaps a parallel between the final Wolf offering and Poulenc’s rapid yet relaxed Les gars qui vont à la fête. It hardly needs saying that Crespin’s diction is impeccable throughout. The final gesture of that final Poulenc song is lightly, deliciously done.
For many reasons one wishes there were more than just three of Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne. The vocal melismas of “La Fileuse” are wonderfully unbuttoned (one thinks of studio versions of the Canteloube songs by von Stade and te Kanawa for instance, vocally beautiful but not of the same degree of freedom). Crespin’s lullaby (“Berceuse”) captures the scent of a fragrant evening at bedtime, and one notices just how softly Crespin really can sing. The transfers of all of the songs is beautiful, the slight surface noise fading easily into the background as one listens.
Although there are justly famous versions of the Ravel and the Berlioz song cycles with Ansermet for Decca, these live performances demand auditioning too. There is an added spontaneity to Crespin’s delivery in the Ravel, with a splendidly musical solo violin in the first song, “Asie.” Here, too Schippers finds great depth of string sound, superbly caught in Immortal Performances’s transfer. The heady heights the orchestra reaches in “La flûte enchantée” signify a connection with the music that is entirely on a par with Crespin’s, while this movement is decidedly more fluid than in the studio.
If the orchestral opening to Ah, Perfido! is rather workaday, there is nothing routine about the way Crespin flings out her initial statements. It becomes a great piece of music, leading one to wonder why it appears to have disappeared from the concert platform these days (Birgit Nilsson, too, tackled this piece with success). It becomes more than a showpiece; the piece’s stature seems to rise with each successive phrase.
The Berlioz Les nuits d’été here is free and pliable. It is swifter than the recording with Ansermet (by some three minutes) and seems to breathe an easy inevitability, perhaps best heard in the fragrant “Le spectre de la rose.” The recording is fabulous here, in fact, and the detail on headphones is astonishingly vivid. For “Sue les lagnes” it as if the sorrow of the Prelude to act III of Wagner’s Tristan had migrated across, adjusting its harmonic vocabulary to suit the territory in the process. Crespin’s lower register is impressively strong. The serene pace of “Absence” allows time for the harmonic shifts to be fully relished. The accompaniment here is particularly alert under Kritz: repeated string chords of various descriptions, but magically rendered.
The Mozart excerpts have additional interest in being conducted by Inghelbrecht; whether the fact they are in French adds interest is very much a personal thing. Nevertheless, there is tenderness here, and the inclusion of the Così excerpts in particular links this to the Cantelli Immortal Performances release reviewed elsewhere in this issue of Fanfare. Crespin’s Fiordiligi is very much a team player in these excerpts, blending into the ensemble and interacting with her fellow cast members most sensitively. True, orchestra ensemble is not always all it could be, but one revels in the standard of the recording as regards the voices. The aria “Per pietà” demonstrates Crespin’s beautiful long line (and the orchestra reminds us what French players of the French horn sounded like at this time: overburdened with vibrato). If the orchestra is a little lazy when the tempo picks up, Crespin herself is peerless. She just oozes confidence.
Unlike the Così excerpts, the Figaro “Dovè sono” is in its original language. It seems to contain a whole world of emotions within it, a distillation of a lifetime’s emotions into a preternaturally small space. It is followed by something of a rarity: the “Death of Fedora” from Ildebrando Pizzetti’s opera Fedora. While Pizzetti might have found a champion in Toscanini, his music today languishes in neglect. Crespin takes us to a magical place, here intensity visceral. The recording supports the tenderness of the accompanying strings, while Crespin’s long-spun lines speak of desolation and sweet resignation.
The Gluck Iphégenie excerpts are certainly heartfelt, and the recording supports Crespin’s intense way with the higher register. Finally, we have the Verdi Otello duet with José Luccioni, heard here in this 1955 recording as “Dans cette nuit profonde.” There is a decidedly baritonal quality to Luccioni’s opening, but it is when Crespin enters that things go up more than one notch. Suddenly, we believe in the drama and the situation.
Henry Fogel’s booklet notes are invaluable, especially as he was involved with the recording of the Berlioz here. A postscript: In the end, I never did get to hear Janet Baker live … but perhaps the memory of Crespin makes up for it. All lovers of vocal music should gravitate to this set like moths to a flame.
RÉGINE CRESPIN: Rare Broadcast Recordings • Régine Crespin (sop)• IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1085 (2 CDs: 153:30)
September / October 2017
Régine Crespin (1927–2007) was a remarkably versatile artist, one who easily bridged the French, Italian, and German repertoire. The French soprano was equally at home on the opera and recital stages. She was also able to deliver outstanding performances in the soprano and mezzo-soprano repertoire. Crespin possessed a voice of striking, voluptuous beauty, and considerable power. She also radiated an elegant, noble presence that commanded the stage. Like most great artists, Crespin recorded extensively, but was at her electrifying best when performing before an audience. A fine new release affords the opportunity to hear Crespin in live performance of many works she recorded commercially. To be sure, Crespin’s studio recordings of songs by such composers as Schumann, Wolf, and Poulenc, as well as works for voice and orchestra such as Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido, Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, and Ravel’s Shéhérazade are superb, and indeed, in many cases, classics of the gramophone. In the live performances included on this release, Crespin is in every bit as fine voice as she was for the various studio recordings. But the live performances bring a greater sense of spontaneity, intensity, and yes, pleasure in the art of communicating to an audience. These performances don’t merely complement Crespin’s studio renditions; they may well be considered the preferred versions.
The performances of the Schumann, Wolf, Poulenc, and Canteloube songs are from a 1966 Strasbourg recital, broadcast on the radio. Crespin, collaborating with the superb accompanist John Wustman, offers idiomatic and captivating renditions of songs that bridge a variety of styles, not to mention languages. In 1965 New York Philharmonic concerts, Crespin performed both Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido. Both the Ravel and Beethoven are sublime, as Crespin, conductor Thomas Schippers, and the orchestra display a keen sense of partnership throughout. Schippers’s death at the age of only 47 was a major loss to the music world. One of the gems of this set is the performance of Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, taken from 1968 performances with the Syracuse Symphony and conductor Karl Kritz. The source for the recording is also the author of this release’s liner notes, my colleague Henry Fogel. Henry was then the station manager for WONO, Syracuse’s all-classical radio station, who broadcast all of the Syracuse Symphony’s concerts. The placement of the microphones recording the performance offers a true sense of Crespin’s rich and powerful voice enveloping the concert hall. And it is a superb performance indeed. Crespin told Henry Fogel that she much preferred the Syracuse concerts to her famous Decca studio recording with Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Despite fleeter tempos, Crespin felt the Syracuse performances had a greater sense of flexibility and freedom of phrasing and interpretation, and indeed there is a far greater sense of spontaneity. It’s clear from the audience’s ecstatic response at the close of the performance that Berlioz and the performers have weaved their magic. The remainder of the set features Crespin in live performances of various operas. Once again, Crespin’s radiant vocalism and expertise in a wide variety of repertoire are something to savor, time and time again.
Henry Fogel’s liner notes offer many valuable insights into Crespin’s artistry and career, and the anecdotes surrounding her Syracuse Symphony appearance are delightful. The recorded sound on the various concert items, taken from diverse sources, are all very fine. The various opera excerpts are somewhat less impressive from a sonic perspective, but still far more than adequate. Régine Crespin was an important, and perhaps even unique, artist. The new Immortal Performances set is a wonderful testament to the qualities that made her so. Recommended without reservation to Crespin fans, and to all who want to enjoy a very special artist at her best.