Berlioz' lovely little cantata "Herminie" opens with the familiar strains of the idee fixe from the "Symphonie Fantastique". This charming work is based on an episode from the 'Liberation of Jerusalem' by Tasso, set to words by Pierre-Ange Vielliard. The collection of three scenes/airs is certainly not one of Berlioz' best known works but is all together pleasant and contains elements of the composer's more mature works. Berlioz admits that the vision of the arias and their orchestration was altered a bit to sound more "prayer" like. This somewhat obscure work is a wonderful attention getter to this quite enjoyable new collection of French scenic works for soprano and orchestra. Berlioz' "Nuits d'ete (Summer Nights)" is more familiar to most and this rendition is lovely. The texts themselves are ponderous, and deal with lost love; penned by a contemporary of Berlioz', Theophile Gautier. The songs discuss the idylls of spring, but then ruminate on a beloved's leaving, her death, her entombment and - in another mood shift that presages the "Symphonie Fantastique" - the closing aria discusses the possibility that all such things are simply a dream; a sense of apprehension that comes to rest on a "faithful shore." Soprano Veronique Gens, who is a product of the Paris Conservatory, sings these Berlioz works with true emotion, a depth of sensitivity and a beautifully nuanced tone that is ideal to these types of art songs. Her collection closes with the atmospheric setting of "Scheherazade" by Ravel. This is, first of all, clearly Ravel; not Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravels' setting of three poems on the well known tale by Leon Leclere. Ravel's harmonic language sounds most akin to the familiar world of "Daphnis" - let's say - in the central "The Enchanted Flute". These songs do not directly tell the story of the Arabian nights per se but, rather, uses the poetry to evoke the imagery of these exotic places and times. Most importantly, this is another beautiful score sung beautifully. This is a wonderful CD and Veronique Gens has the perfect voice for these gems. Conductor John Axelrod and the National Orchestra of the Loire offers warm, sensitive accompaniment.