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Annette Celine: Was it a Dream?
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957) Säv, säv, susa (Sigh, sedges, sigh) Op. 36 No. 4; Svarta rosor (Black roses) Op. 26 No.1; Flickan kom ifrĺn sin älsklings mote (The girl came from meeting her lover); Var det en dröm? (Was it a dream?) Op. 37 No. 4; Demanten pĺ marssnön (The diamond on the March snow) Op. 36 No. 6; Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912) Oh! Si les fleurs avaient des yeux; Ouvre tes yeux bleus; Heure vécue?; Plus vite; Voix Supręme; Henri DUPARC (1848 – 1933) Au pays oů se fait la guerre; Romance de Mignon; Chanson triste; Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 – 1924) Au bord de l’eau; Pablo LUNA (1880 – 1942) De Espana vengo; Pablo SOROZÁBAL (1897 – 1988) Noche Hermosa; Sebastián de YRADIER (1809 – 1865) La Paloma; Leo DELIBES (1836 – 1891) Avril; Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893) Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt (None but the lonely heart) Op. 6 No. 6; Inmitten des Balles (At the ball) Op. 38 No. 3; Marguerite MONNOT (1930 – 1961) Hymne a l’amour; Dino OLIVIERI (?) J’attendrai; Louis GUGLIEMI (?) La vie en rose
Annette Celine (soprano)
Christopher Gould (piano)
rec. St Paul’s School, London, August 2003
BRANA RECORDS BR0011 [68:55]

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Many - most? - song recital recordings are one-composer offerings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many - most? - live recitals are mixed programmes, normally building in a few larger groups of songs, either composer-related or nationality-related with some ‘lollipops’ thrown in at the end. This disc is of the latter kind and the programme is mouth-watering: a handful of well-known Sibelius songs (sung in German, though, and in one case French instead of the original Swedish); a group of French melodies by Massenet (seldom heard but lovely music), Duparc and Fauré; a trio of Spanish songs (Luna’s De Espana vengo actually an aria from the zarzuela El nińo judio); two Tchaikovsky songs most people know and finally three French chansons, two of them from Edith Piaf’s repertoire. So – a fine programme. Reading the track-list I looked forward to a varied full hour of lovely songs.

Alas! The execution of them leaves much to be desired. Honestly I derived practically no pleasure at all from this disc. Ms Celine’s voice may once have been a pliable and sonorous instrument – and her list of merits endorses this supposition – but two years ago, when this recital was recorded, it had lost most of whatever qualities it once had. It is a thick unwieldy voice, afflicted by a heavy vibrato that quickly becomes a wobble, not only in the upper register and in forte. In fact she hardly sings a single note that is not distorted. The tone in itself is also hollow and uneven and intonation can be suspect, especially at the end of phrases. Even though it grieves me deeply to say so, large portions of the disc sound more like a parody than the seriously intended recital it – hopefully – was supposed to be, since behind the vocal deficiencies one can trace an honest and probing Lieder artist, who has gone to considerable pains to delve below the surface of these wonderful songs. Her phrasing is well judged and musical, she is careful about dynamics and it is obvious that the texts mean something to her, but – and there is the rub – her voice doesn’t obey her any more.

I won’t go into detailed analysis to prolong the pain but, to be honest, there are different degrees of deficiency. Sibelius’ powerful songs can stand a certain roughness and for instance the Finnish dramatic soprano Kirsi Tiihonen who made a Sibelius disc for Naxos a few years ago (possibly only released in Scandinavia) sings these songs with all the mightiness of an Isolde or a Brünnhilde, but she has her vocal resources under perfect control and her vibrato, once one has got used to it, only emphasises greatness of the songs, in fact closer related to operatic scenas than intimate Lieder. But treating the delicate French Mélodies in the same large-scale manner is like spreading colours on a large canvas with a palette-knife instead of using an etching-needle. Massenet’s songs cry out for a slimmer voice, for some elegance and fine lines. Ouvre tes yeux bleus, such a lovely song, is almost unrecognisable when hammered up like this. Henri Duparc’s Au pays oů se fait la guerre initially finds her in slightly better shape, more intimate and steadier of tone, probably recorded on a better day. She even sings some high notes piano and with little obtrusive vibrato, and the very last song, La vie en rose, taken very slowly, is actually rather touchingly done. Many other songs, however lovely per se, are unfortunately best forgotten in these versions. More’s the pity since her accompanist, Christopher Gould, is a brilliant pianist and on my note-pad I jotted down, while listening, “delicate” (Ouvre tes yeux bleus), “delicious intro” (La Paloma), “lovely prelude” (La vie en rose), to quote just a few. He is also recorded with exceptional clarity, while Ms Celine sounds occluded as though she was recorded in different acoustics, but it is most certainly the quality of the voice and not the microphones.

The inlay has short bios on the singer and the pianist and short, uncredited but illuminating commentaries on the music (printed in white on black of course – another black mark!) but no texts or translations.

Pondering a bit on this disc I wonder why it was issued at all. Someone, at least, during the run of this production must have been aware that the end-result was less than flattering to all involved and should have called the whole thing off. I have tried to be as positive as possible, but I am afraid that the only recommendation I can give is: Don’t buy this disc!

Göran Forsling




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