Prague Philharmonia, cond. Emmanuel Villaume
Warner Classics 0825646179503 (recorded August 2014)

I have never heard Bryan Hymel live. The first time I heard him was in the Troyens broadcast from London in which he mightily impressed me. Never since Del Monaco did I hear a tenor who brought to life Enée’s  lament so powerfully with an impressive, trumpetlike held final top note which was almost a study of the Italian tenor’s version at La Scala in 1960. So the track (nr 5) with the Troyens piece was the first I headed for. And here comes a first disappointment. Nowhere did this recorded version match his live incarnation.  One of the reasons is Hymel himself who sounds occasionally squeezed and  pinched on his top notes which never really expand in comparison to the middle voice. Mind you the top notes are all there including some impressive interpolations but as said they often –though not always- sound pinched.

The sound engineer may be the problem here as the overall sound of the disc is rather dry (to my ears at least) and the balance between voice and orchestra is not optimal. Another drawback is the conducting. While the orchestral playing is excellent the maestro’s conducting is uneven, curiously mannered even bland in some pieces. Sweep and grandeur a condition sine qua non for this kind of repertoire are missing.
Hymel though sings every piece with commitment and in very good French enunciation and he selected a very interesting choice of arias.  Our late contributor Leslie Mickelson would have been very happy to see Hymel included her favorite aria “Faiblesse de la race humaine” from Gounod’s Reine de Saba which he finishes with a long held and –yes- impressive interpolated top note. Meyerbeer’s “Pays merveilleux” doesn’t stop with the aria but as Ben Heppner did in his French arias record Hymel includes the sequel “Conduissez-moi vers ce navire” as well.

A good choice too is the inclusion of arias –very well sung -from Rabaud’s Rolande  et le mauvais garcon ( a first!) and Bruneau’s L’attaque du Moulin (also recorded by Alagna).
Hymel is at his best in the aria from Sigurd but he can’t erase memories of other tenor versions of “Je veux encore entendre ta voix” from Verdi’s Jérusalem.
In the accompanying booklet Hymel states he wanted to record arias that were representative of the roles he has performed throughout his career. Did he really already perform such rarities as the Reyer, Rabaud , Bruneau, Meyerbeer and  Gounod operas featured in his debut recital?

All in all not a bad debut but I had expected more; possibly blame the sound engineer, certainly the conductor and hopefully not the tenor.

Click here for more info from Warner with sound samples

Click here for a video sample of the recording process

Click here for the singer's website

Rudi van den Bulck