Two things that Iíve
learned over the last few years are
that any recital disc from Susan Graham
is likely to be An Event and that she
has a particular affinity for French
repertoire. Her latest CD reinforces
her regular recital partner, tells us
in an introductory note, that this particular
programme, which they toured in 2007
and 2008, was assembled as a kind of
"menu gourmand or tasting
menu." Each of the composers is
represented by just one song Ė though,
actually, Honeggerís allocation is three
tiny ones that go together. The songs
are presented in roughly chronological
order and are divided into four groups,
with the Poulenc piece standing in splendid
isolation at the end.
Although all the great
names of mélodie are included
several of their items are rarities.
We also hear a number of songs by largely
forgotten composers as well as pieces
by several composers who are well known
for their music in other genres but
not really as songwriters. In other
words, this is a most enterprising collection
and, to continue Martineauís metaphor,
a most enticing menu.
Collectors will know
that Susan Grahamís voice is a glorious
instrument. Her tone is warm and full,
yet also very focused; her range is
extensive; and she relishes the words.
All these virtues are well to the fore
in this recital.
There are several items
here that are real rarities. Iíd never
even heard of Émile Paladilhe,
Iím afraid. His Psyché
is rather sentimental and sweet but
Miss Graham sings it most touchingly
and with sincerity. She makes it a delight
from start to finish. Another name Ė
and song Ė that was new to me was that
of Alfred Bachelet and his Chère
nuit. This was written for Melba
and itís suffused with sultry emotion.
Thereís a quasi-operatic dimension too.
Susan Graham, with her voluptuous tone,
seems ideally suited to it. She identifies
completely with the song and, as is
so often the case in this recital, spins
an exquisite, long line. Frankly, this
is singing for which to die.
Moving to some more
familiar names, she delivers the opening
Bizet item deliciously, responding beautifully
to the innocent, eager charm of the
setting. She follows this with a piece
by Frank, who Iíve never thought of
as a composer of mélodies.
In fact, he didnít compose much in this
genre but Miss Graham makes a very strong
case for Nocturne. This is another
item in which one admires her sense
of line. She and the admirable Malcolm
Martineau make the change into the major
key for the last verse a lovely moment.
The song by Chabrier
is a delight. Much of the interest here
lies in the inventive, chirruping piano
part, which Martineau plays superbly.
As Gerald Larner says in his note, the
vocal line in the Chausson item Ďfloats
effortlessly on an ingeniously fluttering
accompanimentí. Both Miss Graham and
her pianist display wonderful yet discreet
artistry here and their mutual understanding
and rapport ensure that this song is
a great success.
Among the better-known
names, the Debussy piece receives a
sensuous performance, as does the Fauré
Vocalise. The Canteloube offering
is one of his celebrated Chants díAuvergne.
Here, shorn of the orchestration, which
can sometimes seem to swamp these songs,
the song becomes touchingly simple.
The melody is, as it were, taken back
to basics, or very nearly. Itís a lovely
performance and it takes real artistry
to spin a gossamer vocal line in the
way that Susan Graham does here. The
Duparc song, placed much earlier in
the recital, couldnít be in greater
contrast and itís a tribute to Miss
Graham that she can encompass such a
variety of music so effortlessly. This
is a dramatic Big Song and she projects
it marvellously. Gerald Larner draws
a parallel with Mahler Ė or, to be precise,
Ďpre-Mahlerí - which I must say hadnít
occurred to me before, but which seems
This CD contains the
third recording that Iíve heard by Miss
Graham of Hahnís À Chloris
and this is as good as any of its predecessors.
This piece could have been written for
her, so well does it suit her voice
and expressive range. Malcolm Martineau
weights the Bach-pastiche piano part
perfectly and supports his singer beautifully
in a sublime account of the song.
After displaying her
gift for humour in Rosenthalís La
Souris díAngleterre, which she sings
with a definite twinkle in her eye until
the pathos of the pay-off, Susan Graham
closes with a wonderful performance
of Poulencís La Dame de Monte Carlo.
This was written for the great Denise
Duval and was originally scored for
orchestra. In fact itís a mini-scena.
By turns the music is witty, voluptuous,
vivacious and touchingly melancholic
Ė almost a microcosm of Poulencís output,
in fact. Miss Graham is in total command
of the piece and responds to each change
of mood superbly. Her performance crowns
a wonderfully inventive and superbly
This is as fine a disc
of mélodies as Iíve heard
in a long time. The programme is marvellously
varied and full of interest and both
Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau are
on top form throughout. Gerald Larnerís
succinct but excellent notes set each
item in context. Finally, the recording
is excellent, balancing the performers
very well and providing truthful and
musical sound. This disc provides unalloyed
pleasure and is not to be missed.
Encore, síil vous plait.