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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Shéhérazade [14:57]
Cinq Mélodies populaires grècques (nos. 2-4 orch. Manuel Rosenthal) [6:58]
Deux Mélodies hébraïques [6:14]
Quatre Chants populaires* [10:38]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Trois Chansons de Bilitis* [9:16]
Fêtes galantes (Premier receuil)* [7:17]
Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons* [2:46]
Récit et Air de Lia: L’année en vain chasse l’année (L’Enfant prodigue) [4:51]
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
L’Invitation au voyage [4:08]
Phidylé [5:20]
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Georges Prêtre/*Gonzalo Soriano (piano)
rec. 20-21 February 1962, Salle Wagram, Paris; *19, 20, 22, 23, 25, 26 January 1966, EMI Studios, Barcelona. ADD. Stereo

The liner notes accompanying this CD are by the doyen of commentators on recorded singing, John Steane. In a typically perspicacious and knowledgeable note he makes one point in particular that fascinated me. He says that it’s said that there are two kinds of Spaniard; one who looks to the south and one “whose head habitually turns northwards.” In the former category he would class Conchita Supervia whereas Victoria de los Angeles (1923-2005) belongs in the latter group. This disc of French song is highly supportive of that theory for it offers a strong reminder of the affinity that Miss de los Angeles had for the French repertoire.
The bulk of the programme comes from a disc of songs with orchestral accompaniment, which features Georges Prêtre and the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. This orchestra, or at least in its 1962 vintage, may not be in the foremost rank of world orchestras but they play well enough here. To begin at the end, as it were, the pair of Duparc songs is quite outstanding. L’Invitation au voyage is one of the glories of French mélodie and here it receives a superb reading. The performance is pregnant with atmosphere and in this Prêtre and the orchestra play a very full part. Having heard that I wondered why, in the notes, John Steane concentrated on the performance of Phidylé but when I listened to Miss de los Angeles singing it I understood. It’s a magnificent performance distinguished by much withdrawn, subtle singing. However, the passionate outburst in the fourth and final stanza is heartfelt and ardent.
I found the performance of Shéhérazade equally satisfying. Steane rightly draws attention to this singer’s tasteful approach to the cycle. She’s not as voluptuous as some I’ve heard but her singing is still highly responsive and she articulates and uses the texts with intelligence, sympathy and discrimination. This is a performance of the cycle that I’d describe as clear-eyed rather than overtly sensuous but I like that approach. The calm resignation that we hear in ‘L’Indifférent’ is especially satisfying and convincing.
Her approach to the Greek songs is simple yet sophisticated at the same time. I share John Steane’s admiration for the way she’s “plaintive and almost mystical” in the second song, ‘Là-bas, vers l’église’ and for her “soft luxurious relaxation” in ‘Chanson des ceuilleuses de lentisques’. To cap it all you can hear the smile in the voice in the final song, ‘Tout gai’.  In the Deux Mélodies hébraïques my attention was particularly caught by the improvisatory feel that Miss de los Angeles brings to ‘Kaddisch’, displaying an excellent technique in giving a performance of no little feeling.
Most of the Debussy numbers are drawn from a piano-accompanied recital with Gonzalo Soriano. All the performances seem highly successful. The Chansons de Bilitis inhabit a more rarefied sound world than that of Ravel. Miss de los Angeles makes the stylistic transition effortlessly, giving lovely, understanding readings of these songs. In Fêtes galantes she’s poised and subtle in ‘En sourdine’, a comment that applies to Gonzalo Soriano’s pianism too, and she conveys well the capriciousness of ‘Fantoches’. Best of all, perhaps, is the enchanting, delicate traversal of ‘Clair de Lune’. At the other end of the spectrum, as it were, is the extraordinary Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons, a wartime composition in which Debussy sets his own words. Miss de los Angeles gives a highly involved, passionate reading. I’m very glad this item, which is so different from the rest of the disc, was included.
This is a wonderful disc, featuring one of the most cherishable singers of the post-war era. Perhaps, as John Steane suggests, she was not quite in her vocal prime by the time these recordings were made but the singing is still very fine and tremendously characterful. I enjoyed this disc greatly and I hope many other collectors will do likewise. The sound quality is good and the listener’s enjoyment is further enhanced by the provision of all the texts and translations.
John Quinn


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