OP0044. WERTHER, recorded 1931, w.Cohen Cond. l’Opéra Ensemble; Ninon Vallin, Georges Thill, Germaine Féraldy, Marcel Roque, Armand Narçon, etc. (Germany) 2-EMI 63195, accompanied by elaborate 63pp Libretto-Brochure. Long out-of-print, final copy! - 077776319520
“…the classic pairing of Ninon Vallin and Georges Thill, under Elie Cohen’s leadership….[this WERTHER] is regarded as a model in the French lyric style, by which all subsequent versions should be measured.”
- George Jellinek, FANFARE, March/April, 2005
“…recorded in March of 1931, this WERTHER, despite nearly a dozen other recorded versions available, remains the finest. The orchestra, chorus, soloists and conductor are steeped in the French style and there is a smoothness of orchestral line which is unique. Conductor Élie Cohen finds the ideal harmony of refinement and fire and the Opéra-Comique Orchestra, with its wooden flutes, gut strings and French bassoons rejoice in their own lyrical, resonant ensemble. There seems not to be a dishonest or unnatural bit of rubato or other effect throughout - the drama is always served without exaggeration and Massenet's lyricism, at times airy, at times tortured, is allowed to speak for itself. Ardour and excitement grow organically from the music, there are no sharp edges, just perfectly-drawn feelings. This is Massenet unadulterated,unsweetened and potent.
The singers are ideal. Those curious to hear the French language sung perfectly need go no further - these are the models against whom all others since have been measured. Tenor Georges Thill as Werther manages to combine a heroic timbre with a pleading demeanour - no small feat indeed. The voice is luxurious, big and free, absolutely even from top to bottom. He can ride over the orchestra with ease, and soft phrases are perfectly poised and controlled. He chooses to underplay Werther's death scene - what a relief - and how effective - it is to hear this gorgeous music without sobbing and moaning. He refuses to magnify Werther's already dreadful dilemma and by so doing, makes us empathize with the character. This is a monumental, noble portrayal from one of the twentieth century's great tenors.
And opposite Thill, as Charlotte, soprano Ninon Vallin is no less fine. The role is more often taken by a mezzo-soprano, but Vallin, by understating most of the recitatives and keeping her tone warm and poised, never sounds too light or bright. The voice itself is beautiful and full; her singing is as natural as speech. Her singular style, hesitant yet pulsing and pressing with feeling, makes her Charlotte a classic: she is a very proper woman, who, though filled with emotions for Werther, not only sacrifices love for comfort and duty, but hands her husband, Albert, the pistols with which poor Werther is going to commit suicide. Vallin brilliantly remains involved and aloof at once: her big numbers in the third act begin with great reserve but soon burst wide open. It is a glorious, probing performance, stunningly sung.
The far lesser roles of Sophie and Albert are well taken. The soprano Germaine Féraldy is rather mature for Sophie, but her liveliness and glistening tone provide the perfect counterpoint to Charlotte. The equally little-known Marcel Roque sings Albert with just the right combination of warmth and stiffness - perfect for the character - and also manages to get a sting into his tone when, at the close of the third act, he more or less orders Charlotte to send Werther the objects of the latter's own demise. As a whole, then, there is not an unconvincing,uncommitted performance here.”
- Bob Levine
"During the period between the two world wars, Ninon Vallin was unrivaled as the leading lyric soprano in France. Very good technically, she had an admirable art of singing with a style full of inflexion and modulation and was adept at colouring her voice. That voice had a compass of an easy two octaves of the lyric soprano, with free and natural emission, excellent breath control and a very beautiful timbre….Hers was a perfect legato and she was a mistress of portamento.”
- Alfred de Cock, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2003
"Tenor Georges Thill is much esteemed because he combined French stylistic elegance with an ardent voice of genuine beauty. His Werther is compelling any way you look at it. It's not just that he sings the lyrical passages sensitively and the passionate ones with fervor: the elegance and the ardor are often fused into a single mode of expression....Thill is superbly matched by the Charlotte of Ninon Vallin. [Her] voice is luminous and beguiling...."
- George W. Loomi, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 1997