Le papillon et la fleur op.1/1, Mai
op.1/2, Chanson du pêcheur op.4/1,
Lydia op.4/2, Rêve d’amour op.5/2,
Tristesse op.6/2, Après un rêve
op.7/1, Au bord de l’eau op.8/1, Nell
op.18/1, Automne op.18/3, Poème
d’un jour op.21 (1. Rencontre, 2. Toujours,
3. Adieu), Les berceaux op.23/1, Notre
amour op.23/2, Le secret op.23/3, Aurore
op.39/1, Les roses d’Ispahan op.39/4,
Nocturne op.43/2, Clair de lune op.46/2,
Spleen op.51/3, 5 mélodies ‘de
Venise’ op.58 (1. Mandoline, 2. En sourdine,
3. Green, 4. A Clymène, 5. C’est
l’extase), Prison op.83/1
Histoires naturelles (1. Le paon, 2.
Le grillon, 3. Le cygne, 4. Le martin-pêcheur,
5. La pintade)
La caravane op.14, Le temps des lilas
op.19, Les heures op.27/1, La chanson
Ariettes oubliées (1. C’est l’extase,
2. Il pleure dans mon cœur, 3. L’ombres
des arbres, 4. Chevaux de bois, 9. Green,
10. Spleen), 5 Poèmes de Baudelaire
(1. Le balcon, 2. Harmonie du soir,
3. Le jet d’eau, 4. Recueillement, 5.
La mort des amants), Chansons de Bilitis
(1. La flûte de Pan, 2. La chevelure,
3. Le tombeau des Naïades)
is the possessor of something rather
rare these days when contralto parts,
willy-nilly, usually end up being taken
by mezzo-sopranos; a rich, and, in my
subjective opinion, wonderfully beautiful
contralto voice, completely even from
its lowest notes up to a resounding
F sharp. She is also capable of floating
her higher notes in delicate half-tones
and she gives no audible sign of her
passage to the chest register.
It has been suggested
in some quarters that, beyond these
undeniable virtues, she does little
to illuminate the music she sings. Her
Mendelssohn recital, about which I wrote
so warmly, was brushed aside in a leading
British journal. I beg to differ; every
singer has to find an interpretative
manner which suits her own voice and
psyche and a large, sonorous instrument
needs careful husbanding. There is not
a note on these two discs which is not
perfectly produced, perfectly considered
with regard to its weight, its expression
and its place in the phrase. Given the
inherent expressive character of the
voice, I can only applaud Stutzmann
for having found the interpretative
manner which completely matches her
Let it not be thought,
either, that she applies a sonorous
cello-like sonority to everything without
a thought for the words. We do not quite
have the vivid response of Maggie Teyte
in the Debussy but is the Maggie Teyte
approach, its conversational way with
the words far forward in the mouth,
not inherently that of a light soprano?
Stutzmann is nonetheless acutely responsive
to the rhythm of her native language.
Take any of those Fauré songs
where many syllables have to be inserted
in a string of small notes (the first
song on CD 1 will do) and you will notice
that the words are placed in a conversational
manner; it is easy to follow them, a
little less easy to follow the single
notes on the printed page. But since
the longer-term rhythms of the music
are always true, I am inclined to think
this is an authentic feature rather
than not, though it might be a dangerous
one for non-native speakers to imitate.
It is also notable that, whereas low
voices often opt for slow tempi, Stutzmann
never indulges herself in this respect,
keeping everything on the move.
Where I have some doubts
is over the suitability of this voice
to some of the repertoire, much of which
was envisaged for soprano and is here
transposed down, sometimes as much as
by a fourth. No problems with the Chausson,
where the haunting melancholy of "Le
temps des lilas" is positively
enhanced by the lower key and of which
we get a supreme interpretation. No
problems, either, with the two Poulenc
items or with most of the Fauré.
"Le papillon et la fleur",
usually the preserve of piping sopranos,
put me slightly in mind of Dr. Johnson
and the lady preacher (but it is very
well done …). At a few other points
I felt rather as you might feel if you
heard your favourite violin music played
on the viola, but on the whole these
were magnificently committed Fauré
performances, growing in stature as
did the music itself. The selection
is chronologically arranged and some
of the earliest pieces are not especially
The ironies of Ravel’s
"Histoires naturelles" are
a little muted by the grave delivery,
but the problem for me was the Debussy.
Debussy had a strange concept of the
human voice, writing mostly for a light
soprano but keeping mainly within her
lower register in order to obtain a
light, conversational and intimate delivery.
In the "Chansons de Bilitis"
he remains in that register so Stutzmann
can sing them in the original keys.
I feel, however, that by translating
the music to the middle-upper register
of a rich contralto voice, Debussy’s
intentions have been falsified (the
Maggie Teyte recording seems to prove
my point), however intelligently and
feelingly Stutzmann sings.
In the other two cycles
Debussy, while remaining generally in
the lower soprano register, occasionally
sends his singer up to the stratosphere.
Accordingly, Stutzmann has to adopt
lower keys, with the result that what
a soprano would sing with very little
voice (because she hasn’t got much down
there) and with corresponding attention
to the words, almost a whispered effect,
Stutzmann sings with a lush chest-voice.
Furthermore, in the case of Debussy
with his magical ear for piano sonorities,
downward transpositions dull and thicken
his wonderfully luminous piano-writing.
It’s hard to have to say to a singer
that she should not undertake to sing
songs which she probably loves very
much, but I’m afraid I do think
that. I wish she had given us the three
Verlaine songs conceived for mezzo-soprano
or baritone, which call for a voice
much closer to hers.
other problem is the pianist of most
of the programme, Catherine Collard.
She is acceptable in Fauré though even
here, having just listened to Ewa Pobłocka’s
beautiful playing in Olga Pasiecznik’s
French recital, I wished Stutzmann could
have worked with this artist instead.
In Debussy’s “Chevaux de bois” Collard’s
sixteenth-notes rattle away very proficiently
but Pobłocka makes poetry of them.
In the last of the “Chansons de Bilitis”,
too, Collard is light years away
from the fascinating evenness of Cortot’s
sixteenth-notes on the Teyte recording
and she appears unable to make the left-hand
melody at the beginning sing as he could.
She is seriously over-parted by the
very complex Baudelaire songs, her turgid
textures (not helped by the transpositions,
of course) and lack of line are disturbing.
I also feel that it
was pretty stingy not to provide texts
and translations for music where the
words are so important. I know these
things can be found on the internet,
but try printing them in such a way
as to be able to store them with the
The good things here
are wonderfully good; I hope my comments
will enable you to decide if you are
likely to be worried by the same things
that worried me.