Cantare - La voix de la Harpe
Nicholas-Charles BOSCHA (1780-1856) Rondeau sur le trio ”Zitti zitti” from Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini) [7:05]
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)/Mily Alexeyevich BALAKIREV (1837-1910) L’Alouette [5:26]
Albert ZABEL (1834-1910) Fantasie sur Faust (Gounod), Op. 12 [12:23]
Paul BERNARD (1827-1879) Ça fait peur aux oiseaux * [2:40]
Jean LENOIR (1891-1976) Parlez-moi d’amour * (1930) [3:16]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) La Belle aux bois dormant *(1890) [3:28]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) À sa guitare * (1935) [2:44]
Jean-Paul-Égide MARTINI (1741-1816) Plaisir d’amour* [3:10]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Folksong arrangements
The Last Rose of Summer *(1957-8) [3:40]
Quand j’étais chez mon père *(1942) [2:04]
Turlough O’CAROLAN (1670-1738) Eleanor Plunkett [1:58]
Elias Parish ALVARS (1808-1849) Introduction et Variations sur Norma (Bellini) [11:12]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Le Rossignol [4:44]
Felix GODEFROID (1818-1897) Le Carnaval de Venise [10:00]
Harold ARLEN (1905-1986) Over the Rainbow (The Wizard of Oz)* (1939) [4:31]
Isabelle Moretti (harp); *Dame Felicity Lott (soprano)
rec. February 2009, Temple Manin, Paris
Original French and English texts and English/French translations included
NAÏVE V 5186 [78:29]

The old saying cautions that you can’t judge a book by its cover. On this occasion I’d suggest that you can judge this CD by its cover. The cover consists of a charming photograph of Dame Felicity and Miss Moretti relaxing on a sofa, wearing black full-length evening gowns. The two ladies look a picture of sophisticated elegance and the performances on this delectable disc are similarly sophisticated and elegant.

The disc is primarily Miss Moretti’s project and seven of the fifteen items in the programme, including all the more substantial offerings, are harp solos. She tells us in the booklet note that her intention was to devise a programme “which would convey my joy in making the harp sing.” She had the happy idea to invite a singer to participate and the invitation to Dame Felicity duly followed.

The vocal items are at the centre of the programme. All give immense pleasure. The song by Paul Bernard is a pretty slight piece of music but Dame Felicity sings it with charm and poise. It’s followed by Parlez-moi d’amour, a winning waltz-song that was a big hit for the French chanteuse, Lucienne Boyer. It’s a gift for Dame Felicity, whose performance is simply delectable. She’s a noted exponent of mélodies and lives up to her reputation with superb deliveries of the early Debussy piece and of the Poulenc item, which is here heard as originally conceived by Poulenc, for voice and harp. Of the two Britten folksong arrangements that of Quand j’étais chez mon père is much to be preferred, in my view, to that of The Last Rose of Summer. Britten’s realisation of the latter song is over-elaborate and rather overwhelms the essentially simple melody. It may be significant that the arrangement of the French tune is a much earlier one; it seems to be truer to the character of the original melody. Both performances on this disc, however, are top class.

On either side of the vocal pieces we hear Miss Moretti in a selection of harp solos. The German, Albert Zabel, was successively principal harpist at the Berlin Opera and the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg. In the piece chosen by Miss Moretti he constructs an elaborate fantasia on themes from Gounod’s celebrated opera. To be honest, it’s perhaps a little long for its material but Miss Moretti performs it with sensitivity and great finesse. Opera also provides the inspiration for the piece by the harpist, Elias Parish Alvars, who was born in England but spent most of his career in continental Europe. Berlioz, no less, dubbed him ‘the Liszt of the Harp’. His variations on themes from Bellini’s Norma are entertaining even if, like the Zabel, the piece is perhaps a touch too extensive. Miss Moretti plays it superbly.

Appropriately, music by the ‘Liszt of the Harp’ is followed by the real thing in the shape of a transcription by Liszt of a Russian song, The Nightingale. Liszt transcribed the song for piano and his transcription was, in turn, transcribed for the harp in 1934 by the harpist Henriette Renié (1875-1956). We learn from the useful booklet notes that there’s a link between this item and the very first piece on the disc. The song by Alexander Alabiev that Liszt transcribed was used by Rossini in the singing lesson in his opera Il barbiere di Siviglia. The transcription of the final trio from that same opera made by the harpist Nicolas-Charles Boscha is a dazzling, light opener to the recital.

Towards the end of the programme we’re treated to Godefroid’s version of Le Carnaval de Venise. In fact the famous tune only appears 3:37 into the piece, which may give a hint of the elaborateness of Godefroid’s composition. It’s rather a succulent musical sweetmeat and Miss Moretti plays it delightfully.

Dame Felicity reappears at the very end of the proceedings to sing Over the Rainbow. This song, with the harp accompaniment arranged by Miss Moretti, proves to be a delicious envoi, setting the seal on a most entertaining recital.

This disc is somewhat off my usual reviewing beat and I suppose that now is the time to come clean. Though I blush to say so, it was the prospect of hearing Dame Felicity Lott, one of my favourite singers, which made me ask to review the disc. But I ended up by being equally captivated by the artistry of Isabelle Moretti. For sheer entertainment and artistic excellence this CD will take some beating. It’s a delectable experience and I can only urge you to hear it for yourself and surrender to its charms.

John Quinn