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Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937) Shéhérazade (Trois Poèmes de Tristan Klingsor) (1903): Asie; La Flûte enchantée; L’Indifférent
Henri DUPARC (1848 – 1933) Les Mélodies: L’Invitation au Voyage; Sérénade Florentine; La Vague et la Cloche; Extase; Phidylé; Le Manoir de Rosamunde; Lamento; Testament; Chanson triste; Elégie; Soupir; La Vie antérieure
Konrad Jarnot (baritone), Helmut Deutsch (piano)
rec. 20–23 December, 2003, Konzertsaal der Musikhochschule, Munich

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Konrad Jarnot was born in Brighton in 1972, studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and since 1998 has studied privately with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He has a large repertoire in opera and oratorio and sings German, French, Italian and English songs, also music off the beaten track, e.g. Hermann Zilcher, whose Lieder he sang on his debut CD for Orfeo in 2001. Today he lives in Germany.

Studying with Fischer-Dieskau means that he is careful with nuances but the singer he most reminds me of is Gérard Souzay, both in timbre and in singing style. I happened to listen to La Flûte enchantée (track 2) first. It’s a favourite song of mine and the first phrases show a soft and flexible baryton-Martin, i.e. a lyrical tenor with baritone range (Camille Maurane and Pierre Bernac of an older generation were typical barytons-Martin). Jarnot also has shining high notes and dark, full bottom notes in the Souzay mould; in other words he is well-equipped for both lyrical and dramatic utterances. His singing is often elegant. He can sing long legato phrases, exquisitely shaded and his pianissimos can be beautifully honeyed. In forte his singing is not wholly free from strain and occasionally he can press too hard and make coarse sounds. The climax of Asie, the long first song of Shéhérazade, at approx. 7:00 on track 1, on the words "je voudrais voir mourir d’amour ou bien de haine" is forceful and ugly, but that is very much an exception, and I can imagine that Jarnot, or his teacher, would counsel that you shouldn’t sing the word "hate" beautifully. All through the recital it is very obvious that Jarnot is responsive to the texts, that he colours the voice appropriately, that his diction is good and that he sounds French. The Ravel song cycle is, by the way, a world premiere recording, never before performed on disc by baritone and piano. Usually it is sung by female voices and I have always regarded this as female territory but the booklet states that the text is neutral. Rereading it I still feel that it is a woman speaking, at least in the second and third songs. Be that as it may, if Christa Ludwig or Brigitte Fassbaender can sing the typically male cycle Winterreise, we can also accept a baritone in Shéhérazade. What should be more crucial is the piano accompaniment when one is used to the shimmering orchestra. And it is true that it loses a little of the oriental mystery, but Ravel was also a marvellous piano composer and produces a rich "orchestral" skein. It is well played by Helmut Deutsch who once again shows that he is one of the best accompanists around. He demonstrates his credentials admirably in the dramatic solo interlude after the climax of Asie. Returning to Jarnot, La Flûte enchantée is beautifully sung, just as the dreamy L’Indifferent.

It is good to have collected here all twelve songs Duparc wrote for male voice. There have been several other recordings lately, and I haven’t heard all of them, but from what I have heard it is clear that Jarnot is up there with the best. Here he is even more reminiscent of Souzay and that is high praise. Duparc was probably one of the most self-critical composers in history but that also means that what is preserved is on the highest possible level. These songs are masterpieces and it is no problem to listen to them in a row, since they all have their own unique individuality. Just listen to L’Invitation au Voyage and Sérénade Florentine. These are the first two songs and they are beautiful both and finely sung. Then comes the stormy La Vague et la Cloche. This is sung with real bite. Phidylé, one of Duparc’s most enchanting melodies, is also enchantingly sung with warm tone. I could go on like this through the full dozen. Suffice to say that we have here a singer in his early prime, already a mature artist, whom I wish all the best with his career and hope to hear more from before long.

To sum up, this disc was a pleasant surprise and I urge readers to give it a try. Shéhérazade, in this version will probably not be my first option in the future – nothing can beat Régine Crespin’s 40-year-old Decca recording, reissued in the Legends series – but it is an interesting alternative, and the Duparc songs are very fine indeed. The sound quality is all one could wish, the booklet contains the sung texts with German and English translations, the English ones by the singer himself.

Göran Forsling

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