“Prix de Rome – Volume 6”
Charles Gounod: Marie Stuart et Rizzio  – Fernand  – La Vendetta  – Messe vocale  – Christus factus est  – Hymne sacrée  – Messe de Saint-Louis-des-Français 
Gabrielle Philiponet (soprano) , Chantal Santon-Jeffrey (soprano) , Judith Van Wanroij (soprano) [2,5,6], Caroline Meng (mezzo-soprano) [6,7], Artavazd Sargsyan (tenor) [6,7], Sébastien Droy (tenor) , Yu Shao (tenor) [2,3], Alexandre Duhamel (baritone) , Nicolas Courjal (bass) , Flemish Radio Choir [4,6,7], François Saint-Yves (organ) [4,6], Brussels Philharmonic, Hervé Niquet (conductor)
Recording: La Salle Flagey, Brussels, Belgium (September 4-8, 2017) [1,2,3], KVS, Brussels, Belgium (June 13-16, 2016) [5,6,7], Church of the Jesuits, Herverlee, Belgium (April 18-22, 2016)  – 128’31
2 CDs Ediciones Singulares #ES 1030 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Book in French and English
This CD is a fascinating journey into Charles Gounod’s music on two scales: 1) an educational experience into requisites of the Prix de Rome and 2) sacred music composed during and following his two-year stint in Rome. These under-credited (and in some instances under-performed) compositions give us another glimpse into the quintessential French romantic composer.
The first CD centers on three of Charles Gounod’s cantatas he created when applying for the Prix de Rome. The strict music essentials required a story with dramatic tension (its construct was to be a case-study for future operatic writings.) While his first two attempts (with Marie Stuart et Rizzio in 1837 and La Vendetta in 1838) found no success, the following year’s Fernand opened the doors. Although all pieces tug with tension, the most poignant display of Gounod’s might falls inside Fernand. Perhaps it’s because this piece was written for multiple singers (in 1839 the Académie expanded the standards to include three voices), but it really teases with exemplary, pithy melodrama.
Akin to Karine Deshayes, Judith Van Wanroij’s Zelmire reveals remarkable, flexible dramatic delivery, and a buoyantly light timbre. Her lover, Alamir (sung by tenor Yu Shao), shines inside the lyrically French passages with excellent enunciation while Nicolas Courjal sings with such sensitivity to draw out the selfless tendencies of the Spaniard, Fernand. The music’s orchestral interludes anticipate Faust, yet there is a marked feel of Félicien David and his Herculanum. Brilliant from beginning to end.
Other dilemmas pivoting around avenging a lover (Marie Stuart et Rizzio) and seeking vengeance against the murder of a father (La Vendetta) also bear strong cases for musical anxiety within Gounod’s scores. Equally formidable.
Having affections towards Palestrina, Charles Gounod was a font of sacred music: situated inside Rome, his inspiration blossomed. The four selections on the second CD give variety through mixed voices and soothing organ accompaniment by François Saint-Yves. Hervé Niquet’s direction is pristine and well-reflected through the Flemish Radio Choir with well-balanced and attentive diction upon every turn of the page. Each composition suffuses platonic rapture: undemanding on the ear, lyrically light, sweet in melody. The best representation of individual soloists radiates inside the Hymne sacrée...powerful and majestic, this is one of the most enthralling deliveries. Evoking the beauty of Christ is directed through, once again, Judith Van Wanroij’s charitable soprano voice in the flouncy religious Christus factus est.
Ediciones Singulares triumphs once again. Anyone who cherishes the magnificence of Charles Gounod would be well to collect his little treasure.
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