[The following review was also submitted for the plain vanilla CD of these performances. This, of course, is the hybrid SACD version. I compared the two versions and can say that the current issue on SACD is in much more brilliant and lifelike sound, as seems to be the case generally for SACD issues. Being a hybrid SACD, this issue can be played on either a regular CD player or a newer SACD player. Many classical music lovers who haven't yet bought an SACD player are nonetheless acquiring discs like this one in order to have them when they DO buy a newer machine. In my case, I do not own an SACD player and made my comparisons of the two versions of the disc using a friend's equipment. And I'm inching toward buying an SACD player for myself.]
It seems that every lyric soprano of note eventually makes a recording of Joseph Canteloube's 'Songs of the Auvergne,' and no wonder: they are colorful and tuneful and have absolutely gorgeous orchestral settings. I've never met anyone, including non-aficionados of classical music, who didn't respond positively to them. They are to orchestral songs what Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons' are to violin concertos--a sure-fire hit. Going back to Madeleine Grey and Natania Davrath, through Anna Moffo, the divine Victoria de los Angeles, Kiri te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade and on, I've never heard a bad performance of them. (Barbra Streisand even recorded one of them, 'Brezairola,' on her 'Classical Barbra' album, and not badly, either!) Some are better than others, largely because they not only require superb vocal technique but also a willingness to let some peasant roughness intrude into the singer's tone; some are unwilling or unable to do that. Here we have Véronique Gens, known to us primarily for her impeccable performances in Baroque works and in Mozart, singing these gems virtually perfectly, with the right combination of lyric beauty and earthiness. She has, like many others, made a selection from the 'Chants'; the full set would take two CDs.
One reason these songs are so popular is that Canteloube set them in brilliant orchestrations featuring creative use of solo winds and sparkling piano obbligato. Poor Canteloube never again came close to the popularity of these settings although he produced a moderately large body of other works, including other song settings and two operas most people never heard of. And, from the sound of it, his orchestrations are virtually performance-proof; I've never heard a bad performance, and that even includes a college production.
What of these specific performances? Gens is a consummate artist and she mixes both the innocent frustration of, say, 'Baïléro,' where the shepherd girl is separated by an impassable river from her potential swain, to pastoral piquancy in 'Lo Calhé,' sung to a quail (which I'm told, in the comment below, is really a pet name for a lass). In the sultry, even erotic, songs she seduces with luscious tones. In the lullaby, 'Brezairola,' she croons to her baby in such lovely tones that the listener is, as well, lulled into a reverie. In 'Oï ayaï' she adopts a sassy mocking tone appropriate to a teasing Carmen; delightful! Through all of these songs Jean-Claude Casadesus leads the Orchestre National de Lille in an alternately delicate or rollicking accompaniment to the singer.
This is an outstanding release.