Airs français BEN HEPPNER 4713722
What a treat is this CD. Few are the non-Francophone tenors who are sufficiently courageous to offer an entirely French program, and this is mostly of arias in the heroic mold. Ben Heppner is not only capable of heroics but also possesses a smooth legato and a sense of style . . .
[In this recital] Heppner proves not only a seasoned and commanding presence, but an artist of the highest magnitude, with the vocal equipment and musical intelligence to at once rivet an audience to its seats and compel it to spontaneously rise in a collective ovation. Not one of these arias is a safe walk in the park for any tenor; all require a marathon runner's stamina and demand extremes of technique and range. Only a singer in top form and with a voice that's both powerful and versatile will successfully negotiate, for example, the tortuous phrases of "Seul pour lutter" from Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini" -- which Heppner does with virtually no strain (and apparently no fear). He really takes us inside these scenes, thanks in part to the length of most of the selections; but it's primarily his confident dramatic sense and his ability to communicate that gives an impression of a live stage presentation rather than a studio effort. Listen to how Heppner movingly portrays the tormented emotions of the father in 'Rachel, quand du Seigneur' from Halévy's "La Juive", and to how he captures the prayerful mood of Massenet's 'Ô Souverain, ô juge, ô père', and then elevates this lovely melody and its character's compelling spiritual vision to one of the more affecting displays of pure vocal artistry that you'll ever hear. The singing is consistently grand and eloquent, rich in tone, unflagging in quality and smooth as glass across registers, showing as good an example as you'll find of a singer well-matched with material. In this singer's every note and phrase you can hear the lyricism, textual awareness, and consummate musicality that's a tribute to those legends. And just when you're suspecting that he's got even more in reserve, Heppner confirms it with a majestically swelling crescendo or burst of power that soars in perfect complement to his equally impressive soft, tender moments. The disc's last track, Berlioz's wildly wonderful arrangement of La Marseillaise, is a brilliant if slightly quirky finale. Myung-Whun Chung is a splendid collaborator who gives full rein to his orchestra where required but never fails to give the ultimate power and glory to the singer.
Certainly the velvet-toned middle of Heppner's voice and even its slightly nasal top suits a lot of the French repertoire he records here.
Dass Ben Heppner eine vokale Statur von großem Format hat, bedarf kaum der Erwähnung . . . In den zwölf Arien aus zehn Opern von Berlioz, Halévy, Massenet und Meyerbeer -- mit der von Berlioz arrangierten "Marseillaise" als effektvoll gesungenem Encore -- bewährt sich . . . die Effizienz eines vortrefflichen Vokalisten . . .
Aujourd'hui sans grand rival dans les emplois wagnériens les plus périlleux, Ben Heppner s'est aussi autorisé quelques incursions bienvenues dans le répertoire français.