Songs – Volume 2: Fêtes galantes I [7:57]*; Proses lyriques [19:34]**; Chansons de Bilitis [9:02]*; Ariettes oubliées [16:19] **; Trois Chansons de France [6:01]*; Trois Poèmes de Mallarmé [7:52]*
* Lorna Anderson (soprano), ** Lisa Milne (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London, UK, 4-5 May 2011 (Lorna Anderson) and 14 July 2011 (Lisa Milne)
HYPERION CDA67883 [66:47]
In a recent review of piano music by Debussy and his admirers I said I couldn’t understand how anyone cannot love his music. Hearing these songs this feeling is doubly reinforced. These are ravishingly beautiful and are superbly sung by two wonderful sopranos. They are partnered by one of the greatest accompanists working today. It’s a heady mix of brilliance from all quarters.
It does help that French is such a musical language. It simply demands to be set, particularly when the poet is someone like Verlaine who penned nine of the poems on this disc. Anyone who has studied them will readily feel at home with these settings which give added meaning to the already evocative words.
I wasn’t aware that Debussy also wrote poems but the first group, Fêtes galantes, are followed by settings of four of his. While the poems cannot be compared with those of Verlaine and the others here his music shapes the words so majestically it just doesn’t matter. There then follow three songs to the poems of Pierre Louÿs, the second of which, Le chevelure, is so sensuous in its language anyone in love while reading it will immediately appreciate its sentiments which are further embellished by Debussy’s wonderful setting. More poems by Verlaine come next and then, as if to prove that French was always a language that seduces the poet within, there come Trois Chansons de France by the fifteenth century Charles Duc d’Orléans (1394-1465) in a French I find more easy to understand than any of Chaucer’s English. It’s brought bang up to date by Debussy who telescopes the centuries with his musical brilliance.
Finally there are three settings of poems by Mallarmé, again the finishing touch of Debussy’s music putting gilt upon a musical gingerbread. Debussy often spent a great deal of time among writers and painters declaring a preference to such people over fellow musicians. Perhaps that helps explain how he comes to have such an affinity in setting words and achieving the wonderful musical colouration he does in his music. As I said in the previous review of his music, one has only to listen to La cathédrale engloutie to appreciate how marvellously he can paint a picture in music.
This is a superb disc of Debussy songs and it’s hard to imagine being bettered in this selection. Both sopranos have such wonderfully delicate phrasing and a French that natives will find totally convincing. All in all this is thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding in every way.
Steve Arloff
Thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding in every way.