[Massenet] knows how to write for the soprano voice, and his melodies and harmonies are lovely… this is an enjoyable record. It allows us to explore some out-of-the-way repertory and also introduces us to Rosamund Illing, a most accomplished young soprano. She has a fresh, pure, steady voice, and she deploys it with great style and great artistry.
I sampled the two most familiar arias first, ‘Il est Doux’ from Herodiade and ‘Pleurez mes Yeux’ from Le Cid; and she is not disgraced by the formidable competition. Her French is good… she etches a clean musical line, she floats her top notes ethereally, and she has enough power for the climaxes. The program begins with two songs (orchestrated by Brian Castles-Onion), both decorously erotic in the Massenet manner… The arias are then presented in chronological order so we can trace the composer’s development from the lighthearted and farly simply (La Grand’ Tante, Marie Magdeleine…) to the more Wagnerian and Straussian (Griselidis, Ariane). Along the way we meet the jaunty Cherubin… and the passionate Sapho, who moves Illing to surprising dramatic vehemence.
Richard Bonynge must be the guiding spirit behind this enterprise, and he conducts as supportively as one might expect. The sound is superb, and so is the text booklet, filled with useful information and classy illustrations.