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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
U mojevo okna (At my window), Op. 26, No. 10 [2:14]
Davno-l’, moj drug (It was not so long ago) Op. 4 No 6 [2:19]
Dissonance (Discord) Op. 34 No 13 [6:18]
Le rêve (Dream) Op. 38 No 5 [3:37]
Le joueur de chalumeau (The Pied Piper) Op. 38 No 4 [2:31]
Vesennije vody (Spring torrents) Op. 14 No 11 [2:14]
Zdes’ khorosho (How peaceful) Op. 21 No 7 [2:12]
Lilas (Lilacs) Op. 21 No 5 [2:12]
Jan e prorok (I am not a prophet) Op. 21 No 11 [1:41]
Margaritki (Daisies) Op. 38 No 3 [2:42]
Ne poj, krasavica (Sing not, o lovely one, in my presence) Op. 14 No 4 [4:40]
Muza (The Muse) Op. 34 No 1 [4:28]
Ostrovok (Small island) Op. 14 No 2 [2:22]
Ja zhdu tebya (I await you) Op. 14 No 1 [1:53]
Franz LISZT (1811–1886)
Bist du (Is it you) [4:44]
Es muss ein Wunderbares sein (Who can feel the bliss) [2:06]
S'il est un charmant gazon (It there’s a lovely grassy plot) [2:14]
Comment, disaient-ils (How then, asked he) [1:42]
Enfant, si j'étais roi (Child, if I were King) [3:09]
Oh! quand je dors (Oh, when I sleep) [5:17]
Chantal Dionne (soprano)
Louise-Andrée Baril (piano)
rec. Église de la Visitation, Oka, 5-8 September 2006, 11 January 2007. DDD
texts and translations included
ANALEKTA AN29923 [61:27]

Canadian soprano Chantal Dionne has had a quick rise to stardom, triggered no doubt by being Award-winner at the Montreal International Musical Competition in 2005. She already has a busy international operatic career in lyric roles: Micaëla, Marguerite, Pamina, Zerlina, Susanna but also the heavier role of Donna Anna. A quick vibrato – some would even call it a flutter – and rather edgy tone characterizes her voice. In certain respects her timbre is not unlike Elisabeth Söderström’s – an apt comparison, since Ms Söderström, with Russian ancestry, is one of the foremost interpreters of Rachmaninov’s songs on record - her Decca series with Ashkenazy still lays claim to being the benchmark version. She recorded these songs fairly late and some of the youthful freshness was inevitably gone by then but her insight and expressiveness and her ability to colour the tone were still features that marked out her readings. I am afraid that Ms Dionne at this early stage, not surprisingly, hasn’t got quite that far.

She does however have several other features by way of compensation. Hers is a young voice and her breath-control allows her to sings long, unbroken phrases. She can produce lovely pianissimos and she can gather considerable intensity in the more dramatic songs. It could also be argued that the gritty tone lends her singing an authentic Slavonic tinge. At the same time this is her main drawback, since after hearing too many songs in a row the voice quality starts to grate on the ear and creates a monotony that is completely absent from Söderström’s reading, where she creates something individual of each song. And, talking of authentic timbre: the famous Russian soprano Antonia Nezhdanova, for whom Rachmaninov composed several of his songs, possessed one of the purest and smoothest voices in recorded history, so generally speaking authenticity has nothing to do with voice type. Let me hasten to add, which I hope I have already made clear, that Ms Dionne has none of the Slavonic wobble that has more or less disappeared today but was part and parcel of many East-European voices not so many decades ago. What I hope is that Chantal Dionne can hone her vocal cords further and find a softer core that would for example make her Zerlina more ingratiating. On the other hand I suspect that she is already a good Marguerite, from whom one expects the kind of vulnerability that her ‘flutter’ produces. In the main it is the lyrical singing that impresses most and a majority of the songs are also restrained in feeling and utterance.
It was a brilliant idea to juxtapose songs by two of the greatest pianist-composers in musical history, two legendary virtuosos who no doubt will for ever be remembered more for their instrumental music than for their songs. This is a pity, since both wrote songs, romances, of utmost beauty with great understanding of the human voice. Moreover the songs should be of interest also to piano freaks, as neither of them lowered their standards of technical prowess just because they wrote songs. I remember almost twenty years ago when I was involved in a charity gala with guest artists: one soprano sent the piano part for Rachmaninov’s Spring torrents (tr. 6 on this disc) to a local pianist who could play practically anything at sight; this time he complained loudly: This was the most difficult thing I have ever played. Of course he played it to perfection, but it still shows the technical level and Ms Dionne’s Canadian accompanist Louise-Andrée Baril no doubt had some sweaty hours during the recording sessions. The outcome is excellent, however, and besides the jubilant gusts of wind in Spring torrents she shows her mettle in the tense Dissonance). In the Liszt section she also impresses in Enfant, si j’étais roi.
Spring torrents also brings out the best of Chantal Dionne with incisive tone and intensity, but as I said, it is mainly the more inward, lyrical songs that are the most appealing: Zdes’ khorosho, the beautiful Siren and Muza to mention the cream. Among the Liszt songs Bist du is sung with exquisite phrasing, Es muss ein Wunderbaren sein, one of the best known songs here, is lovely. The lively Comment, disaient-ils is done with great charm. It seems that she is most at ease in the French songs, which is also profitable for the masterpiece among Liszt’s songs, Oh! Quand je dors, where she darkens the tone. Similarly impressive is Et soudain mon rêve rayonnera! where the tension and intensity is well judged.
As for comparisons it is a bit unfair to choose Söderström and – in the case of Liszt – Brigitte Fassbaender on a DG recording from the 1980s, and set them against a relative newcomer. That said, anyone who exposes herself in a field like this has to face competition. At a second listening I was admittedly more indulgent about the hardness of tone and there is indeed a lot to admire. In due time she will surely deepen her interpretative insights further and being second best in comparison with Elisabeth Söderström and Brigitte Fassbaender isn’t so bad after all.
The booklet has biographies of the artists and an interesting essay on the songs by Lucie Renaud in both French and English. The layout of the sung texts is a bit strange. When songs are sung in Russian (Rachmaninov) or German (Liszt) the original texts are printed at the bottom of the page with the French and English translations at the top in line-by-line mode, though the contents of the adjacent lines does not always correspond properly. Le joueur de chalumeau (The Pied Piper), sung in French, has all the French text, in two columns on one page and to follow the English translation, also in two columns, one has to turn the page. Quite impractical. One shouldn’t be too finicky, though – today one can’t always take it for granted that texts are provided at all. The recorded sound is well balanced and on the whole I derived a great deal of pleasure from this disc – with the qualifications I have accounted for above. I look forward to hearing more of Chantal Dionne.
Göran Forsling


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