Eleanor Steber sing Les Nuits d’Eté

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Berlioz’s Les Nuis d’Eté has always been a favourite work of mine. I have ten recordings and have heard quite a few more and this famous recording, one of the earliest, made in 1954, has always rightly been considered one of the best.

The voice itself is a beautiful one, firm and even throughout its range,and she is thoroughly in control of its resources. There is a great deal of pleasure to be had merely from the sound of the voice and the way she weights and measures phrases, but she is also keenly responsive to the poetry, ideally melding the needs of the musical line to the meaning of the words.

True, Villanelle has always seemed a tad too slow to me, a little lacking in gaiety, but it is close to the metronome marking of crotchet = 96, so perhaps the fault lies with Mitropoulos, who fails to make the woodwind light enough. Elsewhere he provides excellent support and speeds are judiciously chosen.

The rest of the disc is taken up with more Berlioz (beautifully sung performances of La Captive, Le jeune pâtre breton and Zaïde conducted by Jean Morel) and orotorio arias by Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn. True, these latter, conducted by Max Rudolf, have a slightly old-fashioned, somewhat Victorian air about them, but they are impeccably sung and her diction is exemplary. These were recorded a few years earlier, in 1951, and the voice is at its freshest and most beautiful.

The disc comes with copious notes and photos, but, regrettably, no texts and translations.