How fluent is your Occitan? Joseph Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne, his arrangement of folksongs from central France, are in the local language, not dissimilar to Catalan. They mostly concern the love lives of shepherds and shepherdesses, of which the most famous is the dreamy Baïlèro. Others are far less familiar. Great singers communicate meaning and sell a song whatever the language and Kate Lindsey does this superbly. Even without recourse to song texts and translations, it was perfectly clear what was happening in each of the seven selected for this performance with the Orchestre de Paris under Thomas Hengelbrock.

Kate Lindsey © Rosetta Greek
Kate Lindsey
© Rosetta Greek

Alternating between languid numbers and jokier character songs, Lindsey presented the set with vivid imagination, acting as completely as if on the operatic stage. Margaret sends her lover to the fair to buy her pretty clothes, but refuses to get out of bed; a hunchback fails in his attempt to woo a girl; a cuckoo proudly trumpets its awkward song. Lindsey's variation in vocal delivery and her facial expressions – sullen, exasperated, coquettish – made these genuinely comic. The gentler songs touched greatly, partly because of the American mezzo's daring dynamics but also the wistful serenity Canteloube brings to his arrangements, cor anglais, bassoon and oboe entwined in a romantic trio to open La delaïssádo. Touchingly, the lullaby Brezairola found Lindsey on radiant form, her warm mezzo serenaded by leader Philippe Aïche's sweet violin. Sadly, Baïlèro was completely absent, even as an encore, but these songs brought some southern sunshine to a rain-drenched Paris.

Greek sunshine had opened the programme. Ravel's second suite from Daphnis et Chloé is essentially the final scene from his ballet. It's a cruel test for the woodwinds, plunging them straight into the undulating chromatic lines of one of music's most evocative sunrises. All praise to the Orchestre de Paris' woodwind team – and the excellent acoustics of the Philharmonie – that every note was crystal clear, conjuring up early morning sunlight glittering over the Aegean. Vicens Prats' flute solo in the Pantomime section was bright in tone, matched in character by Olivier Derbesse's lively E flat clarinet. The finale was raucously exuberant, spurred on by Hengelbrock's energetic conducting, full of wrist flicks and punchy accents.

From Greek landscapes to a more varied gallery, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition received a mixed performance. Clothed in Ravel's familiar orchestration, Hengelbrock didn't always dig under the fingernails of the earthier numbers. The grotesque Gnomus – based on Viktor Hartmann's design for a nutcracker – laboured under a sheen of French polish, while the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks had clockwork precision but little character. The opening line of the solo in Bydło, taken on a French tuba in C rather than a standard tuba, was badly fluffed, the unfortunate player looking disconsolate. On the plus side, the saxophone in The Old Castle was very sleek and the children chattered and argued in the Tuileries Gardens with vigour. The homogenous woodwind ensemble impressed in the Russian Orthodox-like chant amid the clamour of The Great Gate of Kiev and it was rewarding to have a proper bell hammered in the finale rather than its puny tubular bell cousin. The evening's journey from the Auvergne to St Petersburg was completed with a dashing rendition of the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin.