, February 2001
"This first recording of Werther is still the best. There have been many others in up-to-date stereo sound with starry international casts, but none so idiomatic, well conducted, and beautifully sung. Georges Thill is a manly Werther, singing with a firmness of tone and line that's always convincing yet still capable of tenderness and quiet passion. Ninon Vallin is a soprano, which may disappoint those who prefer a mezzo Charlotte. But better a great soprano than an indifferent mezzo and Vallin was a great soprano. To hear Thill and Vallin sing together, with voices of surpassing beauty, precise enunciation that makes each word clear, and consummate mastery of the musical lines, is heaven for French opera buffs. Thill and Vallin give a lesson in conveying deep emotions without overstating or exaggerating text at the expense of the music.
Nor is their singing generalized in the modern manner. It's just natural and flowing, and because it is, the opera becomes more moving and satisfying. Listen to the pair's last scene: it'll spoil you for any other version. Elie Cohen's conducting is just as idiomatic--fluid tempos, nothing underscored or exaggerated, and typically French in its elegance and clarity. The rest of the cast is up to snuff, and Naxos adds Thill's superb recordings of arias from Massenet's Le Cid, Hérodiade, Manon, and Sapho. They're worth Naxos' modest price by themselves, and when you add the attraction of Ward Marston's outstanding sound restoration, this historical offering becomes a mandatory purchase."