Classical CD review - Saint-Saëns: Hélène/Nuit Persane

(Melba, two SACDs)

It's easy to understand why an Australian CD label that is named after that country's first great opera singer should want to issue the first ever recording of a work composed for the diva herself. Nellie Melba commissioned Saint-Saëns to write Hélène as a showcase for her in 1904. She got what it said on the label - a one-act poème lyrique based on an anodyne version of the story of Helen of Troy. It puts the star soprano through her paces elegantly enough, but it's a pallid affair that scarcely raises the dramatic temperature. The dramatic cantata Nuit Persane, a reworking of an earlier song cycle, is far more convincing and full of gorgeously coloured orchestral writing, and the singers, lead by soprano Rosamund Illing and tenor Steve Davislim, do both works proud.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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