Hélène and Nuit persane

Eamonn Kelly
The Weekend Australian (Australia)
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From virtuous struggle to exotic seduction

…The music is elegant, technically refined and beautifully orchestrated…Hélène is no exception, as this premiere recording demonstrates. The one-act libretto recalls Helen of Troy's fateful extramarital relationship with Paris…The Melba connection led Melbourne's Melba Recordings to revive it, and it is paired here with a genuine treat: Saint-Saëns’s cantata Nuit Persane (1891), an orchestral reworking of Melodies persanes (1870). A rapidly flowing, love-foiled-by-fate narrative (employing Armand Renaud's poetry) typifies sensual eastern exoticism: harem, sabre and opium feature prominently. The orchestral writing is lively, seductive and conveys the landscape vividly.

Uniformly excellent performances include Steve Davislim 's dramatic rendering of the male lovers. Rosamund Illing skilfully navigates Hélène's soprano material. Zan McKendree-Wright is a potent and foreboding Pallas Athena…Under Guillaume Tourniaire , Orchestra Victoria captures the works' many contrasts and subtleties, and the female chorus is well-balanced and sweet-toned.