The Canadian string group, Les violins du roy, is more associated with early music perhaps; but they do a bang-up job in these conservative but modern works by English composer Benjamin Britten. The recording is close, immersive. The string sound has force and body, along with a striking amount of inflected detail in phrasing and tone colors, and at times a certain raw-gutsy edge. Zeitouni is a committed leader, and he really encourages his players to let loose.
The first work on this disc is a famous modern song cycle, Les Illuminations - set to selected texts of equally famous origin in the poetry-prose of the wildly precocious Arthur Rimbaud. Our soprano soloist is Canada's rising star, Karina Gauvin. Or, maybe ... Gauvin's vocal star has already fully arisen and is now cycling about in the stratosphere layers of Canadian (if not world) artistry. Some detractors acknowledge her vocal strengths, yet manage to still damn her with various iterations of faint praise.
I'm her fan, and double so, given the reading she gives us here of the Britten song cycle. She must be a native French speaker, so knowing is her fully engaged yet internalized way with the vivid Rimbaud texts. One easily gets a knowing sense from Gauvin, similar to hearing Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sing German lieder on EMI discs of Schubert, Mozart, Strauss, Wolf. The music and text are one whole, abundant, rich. Her grasp of text is matched peerlessly to vocal color and phrasing; again recalling this or that great lied singer. My female soloist favs in this cycle? Elisabeth Soderstrom, Christina Hogman, Felicity Lott. Now add Gavin, and I would be slow to dispute any listener who claimed she was reigning queen bee.
Orchestra music for strings fills out the rest of this disc. We get a prelude and fugue for string orchestra, and the rather more familiar Bridge Variations. Both receive energetic readings, blessed with nuance and tuneful lift. Britten makes it all sound so easy, and Zeitouni with LVDR breeze along so deftly; one can mistake by dismissing these works as more fluent than deeply meaningful. Yet repeat hearings will reveal Britten's very special genius for handling what a string band can do, yet does not always do.
One begins to wonder what LVDR would do in the Bartok Music for Strings, Percussion, Celeste?
Then Karina Gauvin returns to finish things off with a final Britten song, this time set to a Tennyson text. If you like this music, try out this disc. Oh yes.