Stéphane Degout - Mélodies
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)
1. La Me rest plus belle que les cathedrals [2:35]
2. Le Son du cor s’afflige vers les bois [3:13]
3. L’Échelonnement des hales [1:46]
Henri DUPARC (1848 – 1933)¨
4. Le Galop [3:27]
5. Lamento [3:12]
6. Élégie [3:08]
7. La Vie antérieure [5:07]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
8. Au cimetière (Mélodies persanes) [3:01]
9. Tournoiement, songe d’opium (Mélodies persanes) [3:10]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841 – 1894)
10. L’Île heureuse [3:11]
11. Chanson pour Jeanne [4:01]
12. Les Cigales [3:24]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874 – 1947)
13. Trois jours de vendanges [3:29]
14. Cimettière de campagne [3:05]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
Histoires naturelles
15. Le Paon [4:52]
16. Le Grillon [3:16]
17. Le Cygne [3:42]
18. Le Martin-Pêcheur [2:30]
19. La Pintade [3:17]
Trois Ballades de François Villon
20. Ballade de Villon à s’amye (Ballada of Villon to His Mistress) [4:10]
21. Ballade que Villon feit à la requeste de sa mère pour prier Nostre-Dame (Ballade Written at His Mother’s Request as a Prayer to Our Lady) [4:34]
22. Ballade des femmes de Paris (Ballade of the Women of Paris) [2:17]
Stéphane Degout (baritone), Hélène Lucas (piano)
rec. July 2010, Salle Varèse, Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Lyon (France)
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
NAÏVE V 5209 [74:00]

Quite a few discs with French melodies have come my way during the last two or three years. Even though, generally speaking, I find German Lieder more immediate and attractive French songs more and more open up and let me into their specific world. Here we are treated to songs by half a dozen composers, several of whom one can always expect on a mixed recital like this – but no Fauré this time. And a couple of them are not particularly well known for their songs. The singer, Stéphane Degout, was Schaunard on the DG recording of La bohème under Bertrand de Billy, which was issued almost three years ago. I found him very good in a role that isn’t exactly a showstopper but this is my first encounter with him as a performer of art songs. Since his acclaimed debut as Papageno in Aix-en-Provence in 1999, he has been in great demand in many opera houses. Some years ago felt that he wanted to resume his interest in Lieder and Mélodies that he had cultivated during his studies at the Conservatoire in Lyon, together with Hélène Lucas. They make a splendid duo: sensitive and flexible with a good sense for the fine nuances as well as dramatic involvement.

The opening Debussy songs are splendid examples of the fascinating correspondence between the vocal line and the piano part. Debussy is often perfumed but never stale. Le son du cor (tr. 2) is especially well sung, soft and intimate. Duparc very often gets the best out of singers and here Le Galop is almost a knock-out: lively, almost wild with a dramatic illustrative piano part. The other three songs are among his most noblest and receive readings to match.

Saint-Saëns’s songs are rather infrequently heard but these two indicate that it would be well worth the effort to search some others out as well. The second of these Persian songs, Tournoiement, songe d’opium (Spinning: an opium dream) is highly individual and the hectic, nervous feeling of eternal activity is so well depicted in the accompaniment. Chabrier, best known for his colourful orchestral works, may be a surprise to many song aficionados with his charmingly melodious L’île heureuse (The Happy Isle). It radiates happiness in a way that few art songs do. Chanson pour Jeanne also begins on a happy note but the mood changes to bitter sorrow, well illustrated in the accompaniment. The third song¸ Les Cigales, is memorably sung by Hugues Cuénod on a Nimbus disc that I reviewed less than a year ago. Degout, though he has more voice, isn’t quite in that class but it is a winning performance even so and it confirms that Chabrier’s songs has a freshness that makes them stand out from his fellow French composers.

Reynaldo Hahn has long been a favourite and these are agreeable readings of agreeable songs.

The concluding two groups of songs are among the most important of French songs during the 20th century – though they are quite different. Ravel chose to set the prose of Jules Renard, where he aimed at finding the speech rhythms and embedded the texts in an atmospheric and colourful piano part. Debussy set Medieval poet François Villon’s juicy ballades and found, particularly in Ballade des femmes de Paris, a down-to-earth irony that is liberating. Both groups, or cycles, are performed with finesse and round off a very appealing recital. Degout occasionally lacks tonal variety but these are well conceived and thought-through readings that should attract wide audiences. The recorded sound is good and there are interesting liner notes by Rémy Stricker.

Göran Forsling

A very appealing recital.