Top critical review
Nice singing from the solists but a diffused unfocused recording
20 June 2011
I love this Gounod piece of music and have it also on Electrola (German EMI edition Stereo LP) with Hartemann conducting.
This relatively early DDD Digital recording by Pathe-marconi-French EMI has soloists which are all better suited for this piece than the Hertmann recording:
The soprano Barbara Hendricks for Pretre here, has a somewhat lighter texture to her voice than P. Lorengar (for Hartemann) which at times sounds too Germanically trained.
Hendricks here on this recording possesses a true lyric spinto hue and the voice is well projected well focused for such sort of music.
The Tenor too is superb for this role and is a better choice than the heavy-toned Wagnerian tenor Heinz Hoppe (for Hartemann).
The Baritone Lafont gets the job quite well, no special comments about his voice or his singing.
The conducting tempi relative to Hartemann's are a bit stretched out but has a vision of grand-oeuvre for this music - by no means a mistake; to the contrary, it gives a feeling of an old-guard interpretation of religious music which here is perfectly suited to a Gounod work with tint of operatic strive.
It is the recording that hinders the whole concept from taking wings...
The hall - 'Sale Wagram' in Paris is one of the best recording places there and conductor George Pretre has carried many great recordings there with Callas (M. Cabale also had there her TV debut - available on DVD). So, conductor Pretre is not a stranger to that hall's acoustics.
But here, what the recording engineer was doing, is to capture the orchestral sound and choir with a too distanced placed omni-directional microphones (in an empty hall). Probably the recording team wanted to achieve a church-like reverberation acoustic and failed in the process (if you want a church acoustic recording do it in a church...)
The resulting sound is unclear, unfocused and at times quite low in volume.
From the stand point of conducting - this is inspiring. From the stand point of soloists this too is inspiring. Alas, the sound is tiring to the ear; not enough locations clues, not enough depth, and flat-flat sound presentation - too meager for home play-back systems.