Recordings > Choral and Song

BERLIOZ: Les Nuits d'Été, La Mort de Cléopâtre

spacer Cargill; Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Ticciati. Texts and translations. Linn CKD 421


Karen Cargill, an impressive Waltraute in runs of Götterdämmerung at the Met in 2012 and 2013, brings drama and lyric point to the music of Berlioz in a recent disc from Linn Records. The Scottish mezzo-soprano has a real feel for the composer (she was Anna in the Met's recent Troyens), with a natural response and a superb technique to meet the many vocal challenges.

The song cycle Les Nuits d'Eté is a perennial favorite, in spite of the difficulty of bringing definition and depth to each of the six very different songs. Cargill's voice is dramatic, not so much in weight as in impact, with access to a lot of color. Berlioz's expansive phrases, especially the high-reaching ones, pose no problem; the mezzo's top notes are thrilling, with a quick vibrato that calls to mind the singing of Tatiana Troyanos. Cargill's voice has both richness and focus, and she moves between soft-edged delicacy and a glamorous steeliness with ease, even venturing into a chilling hollowness for the low-lying opening line ("Ma belle amie est morte") of "Sur les lagunes."

Cargill's vocal magnetism and theatrical sense come to the fore in La Mort de Cléopâtre. Berlioz invested this supremely dramatic "lyric scene" with harmonic and structural daring for his fourth attempt at the prestigious Prix de Rome, for which he was considered a shoe-in. But the judges misunderstood the work, especially its subdued ending, in which Cleopatra expires haltingly and realistically rather than with a vigorous cabaletta and high C. Cargill's huge dynamic range paints these chilling final pages, as well as the heroine's sweeping and rangy phrases, vividly, and she brings majesty to the declamation. The ensemble balance in both selections favors Cargill unnecessarily, however, with occasionally strident results.

Poised to take over the musical directorship of Glyndebourne Opera in 2014, thirty-year-old Robin Ticciati is a sensitive partner, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra takes a solo turn in the luscious "Scène d'amour" from Berlioz's 1839 dramatic symphony Roméo et Juliettespacer


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