I have had several reissues with Barbara Hendricks for review
during the last year. The recurring impressions are: a beautiful
voice with a personal timbre, sensitive phrasing and innate musicality
but also a somewhat generalized approach to the texts and a lack
of variety in tone colour – her singing is monochrome.
there is a lot to admire and on this 2 CD set with French
mélodies she is quite often at her best, the French
language and the special Gallic atmosphere more to her liking
than the German counterpart. She has moreover the excellent
Michel Dalberto at the piano, a musician with a wide repertoire,
equally at home in the classics and the romantics.
first disc, devoted entirely to Gabriel Fauré, starts with
an intense and beautiful version of Après un rêve,
possibly the best known of his songs. Throughout the disc
she catches the predominantly lyrical moods admirably. Nocturne
and Les Berceaux are presented in the best possible
light but she is also successful with her powerful and dramatic
reading of Fleur jetée. She makes a good effort at
La Bonne Chanson, but here she is up against some formidable
competition with Anne Sofie von Otter (DG 447752-2) probably
the pick of the bunch. Their recordings are not fully comparable
since von Otter sings it in a chamber version with a string
quintet added to the piano, but her reading penetrates far
deeper than that of Barbara Hendricks. There are many good
recordings of Fauré’s other songs as well and a special favourite
of mine is Frederica von Stade’s EMI album, which almost always
comes to the fore when I want to hear these songs.
2 is a mixed recital with many a gem, some of them not very
often heard. The three songs by Gounod are as melodious as
anything he wrote – and not too sugary. Sérénade, a
setting of Hugo, is charming and the melancholy L’Absent
is exquisite. Bizet offers some orientalism and Chabrier,
better known for his orchestral music had a fine ear for the
human voice as well. Chausson’s Poème for violin and
orchestra was frequently heard when I grew up. Today he doesn’t
seem to be in vogue, which is a pity. He was an Impressionist
– listen to the piano accompaniments – with a sweet melodious
vein and Le Colibri is a song that should be standard
fare. It is sung here with obvious relish and golden tone.
Chanson perpetuelle is a long piece, dramatically conceived
and with a string quartet giving extra weight to the accompaniment.
was another Frenchman with a sweet tooth. The sparsely accompanied
Crépuscule is a lovely song while Les Erinnyes
is one of his noblest melodies, superbly played here by cellist
Christoph Richter. Here I would have preferred a straighter
voice, more of the Kiri Te Kanawa type, to match the instrument.
needs more flexibility of tone but Barbara Hendricks is a
sensitive interpreter within her own limitations.
Delibes’s Les Filles de Cadix she is up against singers
of the past like Lily Pons and Victoria de los Angeles and
can’t quite compete with either, but she is also at a disadvantage
by having a rather plain piano accompaniment while the others
have colourful orchestras.
has long been a favourite in what could be called French parlour
songs, a more sophisticated variant of the English Victorianism.
Rêverie is a lovely song, Si mes vers avaient des
ailes a true gem and it is beautifully rendered, no big
gestures, just soft and unaffected intimate singing.
is a composer who seems to be largely forgotten but his Chêre
nuit is certainly one of the most beautiful vocal compositions
imaginable. Lily Pons recorded it in 1946 and about ten years
ago Dilbèr recorded it for a small Swedish company, a disc
that probably has had very limited international circulation.
encore, if you like, Plaisir d’amour, is sung faster
than one normally hears it – and is far from unbecoming.
are no texts and translations.
who like French mélodies are likely to find quite a
lot to admire here but should be aware of the limitations
in Barbara Hendricks’s armoury of colours.