Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenor) & Graham Johnson (piano) French song Wigmore Hall, 15 December 1999
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt is a high tenor, well known for his work in the French baroque haut-contre repertoire, and recently seen as Rameau's Platée and as Rimsky-Korsakov's Astrologer in The Golden Cockerel with the Covent Garden Opera.
This was an unusual, and unusually pleasing, recital of French song, many of the delectable melodies and chansons chosen less than familiar. Immediately striking, for an opera singer used to large opera houses, was the intimacy of Fouchécourt's approach,. Three Gounod songs were delivered in a quiet, conversational manner, with a natural line and phrasing. Graham Johnson, our leading accompanist, and superb in every style, fined his playing down to a p to pp level, which prevailed for much of the evening.
There were eight Fauré melodies, including the five 'de Venise' Op. 58. Lily Boulanger, who died young full of promise, was represented by seven songs composed when she was about 20; charming, but a little too reliant upon arpeggio figures in her piano accompaniments.
The second half was more extrovert, with Jean Cocteau postcards set by Maxime Jacob, a group of animal songs by Manuel Rosenthal, better known as a conductor, and Hommage a Paris, settings of Apollinaire by Poulenc.
There was also a small discovery, three Goethe settings by Pierre-Octave Ferroux (the only Goethe settings by a French composer known to Graham Johnson, their inclusion prompted by the Goethe 250 celebration). These were a little archaic in tone, with contrapuntal patterns in the accompaniments which were absent from the greater part of this programme. Ferroud, who gets a very positive entry in New Grove (spelt there with a 'd', not 'x') had been prominent in organising the main forum for contemporary music in Lyons. He was a friend of Poulenc's, and his early accidental death in 1936 affected Poulenc so deeply as to become a catalyst for a new seriousness in Poulenc's own music.
This was a connoisseur's evening, enhanced by the Wigmore Hall's welcoming atmosphere and acoustic, ideal for listening to singers.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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