Kiri Te Kanawa does well by these songs, avoiding the billowing excesses of sentiment that in other hands (or vocal chords) can make them sound much too soggy. Although Berlioz gathered them all together under the present title, all of the songs were composed at different times for different singers, so they aren't really a cycle at all. I seldom listen to all of them at once, and you should feel free to take them in any order that suits you. "The Death of Cleopatra" is an early cantata that perfectly suits Jessye Norman's stately delivery. She's always at her best playing royalty, and if they're dying in mortal agony, so much the better.
Naxos’ first-rate edition of Poulenc’s complete chamber music continues with this very fine collection of shorter pieces and song cycles for voice and small ensemble. Baritone Franck Leguérinel turns in a smashing performance of Le Bal masqué from its manic opening Air de bravoure to the hysterical falsetto antics in the closing Caprice. He’s equally fine in Le Bestiaire, but the cruel vocal line and harmonic acerbities of the Max Jacob songs prove less congenial, though he’s no less stylistically assured.
Le Concert Spirituel was essentially a Parisian concert series held at the Tuileries Palace, begun in 1725 as an opportunity for musical performances during Lent and other Holy Days when secular musical activities like opera were forbidden. The concerts continued until 1790, just after the beginning of the French Revolution. The music of French composers filled most of the programs, but German and Italian music was occasionally heard, and this CD includes five pieces by Corelli, Telemann, and Rameau that were known to have been played at the concerts. Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations, one of the many stellar ensembles he is responsible for founding, play these works with such surging vibrancy that anyone who thinks of the Baroque as a period of stiff formality would be disabused of that notion on hearing these performances.