Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Janet Baker is transcendent!

Six or so years ago, I was asked to be on a panel to discuss the topic of "Definitive Performances" or something like that. The panel discussion never took place. I don't quite recall why, but I was relieved. I really didn't want to take part in it and I didn't even know whether I believed there was such a thing. I still don't know, but if I did, this Les Nuits d'été with Janet Baker would certainly be one of my choices.

When it comes to Les Nuits d'Été, the Régine Crespin recording with Ansermet has always been the acccepted gold standard. I remember listening to it until the LP was worn down, same thing with Crespin's recording of Ravel's Shéhérazade.

Coming across these videos of a live performance of Janet Baker singing these pieces with Herbert Blomstedt conducting was such a thrill! Her performance is utterly transcendent.

Having never seen Baker or Crespin perform "live" is one of my greatest disappointments, so this is really an amazing treat. No better way to start our journey into Mélodie.

After watching these, I would encourage you to also view the Crespin performance of Spectre d'une rose, which is at YouTube HERE. Crespin's approach focuses on the ethereal quality of the "spectre." Her ability to control her sound to achieve this is astonishing.


  1. Wow. Régine Crespin's performance was stunning. I admire anyone who has that level of control and finesse over their instrument! She has so into her character; she didn't have to do much, except use just the right facial expressions. I think the absence of extra movement added to that "ethereal" quality she was trying to achieve. Just have to say it again- wow!

  2. Up until now my favorite moment of the Nuits d'ete was repeated phrase of "Reviens, reviens" in Absence. However, after watching the emotional and musical journey that Baker took in Sur la lagunes I have changed my mind. Seeing how she could at one point have an unshakable calm and the next moment be pouring out every passionate note she could was amazing. Her stamina throughout the performance was exquisite and she delivered on everything. No note, no rhythm, no word, no emotion, no facial expression was anything other than everything she could give.

  3. Janet Baker not a singer in my usual listening line up before now, but that will change after hearing this performance. The cycle as a whole is very beautifully performed, but I was swept up in the honest, powerful emotion of Sur les lagunes. Exceptional!

  4. Each piece Janet Baker sang brought new life, color and emotion. Her commitment to the text made me believe that I knew what she was saying, even without the translation. I appreciate her character and the roles she took on for each piece. It was absolutely breathtaking to watch and my favorite piece had to be Sur les lagunes- her phrases and ache of the line were spot on.

  5. I have heard Janet Baker's recordings of Mahler and English songs before, and I just love her voice and refined interpretations. I loved her Berlioz! Personally, I think it is a work that is too easy to become tedious (as Schubert's strophic settings), but in the hands of creative artists these songs become jewels!

    I never heard this cycle with orchestta before, and I was surprised about how it looks forward to the "music of the future." For example, the orchestration of "ray of light" on "Au cemitiere" using strings' harmonics: I believe a similar effect would be heard again only on Wagner's Introduction to Lohengrin years later! Fascinating!!

  6. I've never heard these pieces before.

    WOW! What color! What nuance! I love everything about these songs; from the use of the text, to the at times unusual tonalities (at least 'unusual' in the realm of 'art song'), to the precise textures of the orchestra to achieve JUST the right affect for the fading light of day.

    Janet Baker is (as always) amazing, making these heavy, soaring lines seem effortless and easy. Some of the vocal lines seem incredibly taxing on the voice, as the tessititura gets higher and louder, but Janet Baker handles these cumbersome lines masterfully. Her color/timbre is at home with this work--darker and heavy one moment yet caressing the languid text with a whisper in another moment.

  7. The only other Berlioz composition I've listened to was his Symphonie Fantastique on Youtube. I listened to both Regine Crespin's performance and Janet Baker's performance. I can't imagine the amazing experience it would've been to hear Regine Crespin and Janet Baker perform Nuits d'etes. As Brooklyn said, the commitment that the singers make into their performance of this orchestral song cycle is powerful. So thankful for role models.

    After having listened to both the Symphonie Fantastique and Nuits d'etes, I like a lot of the colors in Berlioz's music. Now I want to listen to his opera Les Troyens.

  8. The Berlioz piece that I am most familiar with is "Symphony Fantastique", but I hear a similar genius of orchestral colors in "Nuit d'été. A truly wonderful set of songs. I enjoyed Baker's rendition very much, especially her sense of phrasing, colors, and the very French way she had of text declamation, while being extremely musical. I have to say, though, that Crespín's version is what I think of as truly French singing. She infused her text with extreme elegance while also employing fine musicality and colors. Perhaps due to the higher key than Baker sang in, Crespín's voice seems to have a greater refinement of line and phrasing, which I tend to think of as the French ideal.