José van Dam - Recital at La Monnaie / De Munt
Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Michelangelo
1. Wohl denk ich oft an mein vergangnes Leben [2:06]
2. Alles endet, was entstehet [4:21]
3. Fühlt meine Seele des ersehnte Licht [4:33]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
4. Wie rafft’ ich mich auf in der Nacht, Op. 32 No. 1 [3:25]
5. Ich schleich umher, Op. 32 No. 3 [1:46]
6. Der Strom, der neben mir verrauschte, Op. 32 No. 4 [1:29]
7. Wehe, so willst du mich wieder, Op. 32 No. 5 [1:59]
8. Du sprichst, dass ich mich täuschte, Op. 32 No. 6 [3:05]
9. Junge Lieder I – Meine Liebe ist grün, Op. 63 No. 5 [1:31]
10. Dein blaues Auge hält so still, Op. 59 No. 8 [2:28]
11. Auf dem Kirchhofe, Op. 105 No. 4 [3:04]
12. Von ewiger Liebe, Op. 43 No. 1 [4:38]
Henri DUPARC (1848 – 1933)
13. La Vie antérieure [4:30]
14. Soupir [3:41]
15. Chanson triste [3:20]
Jacques IBERT (1890 – 1962)
Chansons de Don Quichotte
16. Chanson du départ de Don Quichotte [3:15]
17. Chanson à Dulcinée [3:23]
18. Chanson du duc [2:02]
19. Chanson de la mort [3:03]
Francis POULENC (1899 – 1963)
Chansons gaillardes
20. La Maîtresse volage [0:38]
21. Chanson à boire [1:56]
22. Madrigal [0:32]
23. Invocation aux Parques [1:26]
24. Couplets bachiques [1:28]
25. L’Offrande [1:09]
26. Sérénade [2:08]
27. La Belle jeunesse [2:15]
28. Le Manoir de Rosemonde [3:11]
José van Dam (bass-baritone), Maciej Pikulski (piano)
rec. live, Palais des Beaux-Arts (Brussels), 7 May 1997
Texts enclosed but no translations
Most readers, I believe, know José van Dam as a highly successful opera singer, but he also has an extensive concert and recital repertoire. Born in Brussels in 1940 he started his training at the Royal Conservatory at the age of 17 and quickly graduated. He made his debut at the Paris Opera in 1961, which means that he can look back on a career of 50+ years with appearances in all the great opera houses and concert halls. A large number of recordings have also endeared him to music-lovers worldwide. He probably reached his widest audience through Joseph Losey’s film version of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in 1979. There he was Leporello opposite Ruggero Raimondi’s Don. Other prominent singers were Kiri Te Kanawa as Donna Elvira and Teresa Berganza as Zerlina. The conductor was Lorin Maazel.
The present recital was recorded in Brussels when he was approaching 60 and it is indeed remarkable how well preserved his voice is. He has retained his sonorous tone, there is not a trace of wobbliness and the voice is as flexible and rich in colour as we remember it from his earliest recordings. The timbre is a little drier and the colours are somewhat subdued, like a 17th century painting before restoration. In other words: we know that this is an artist who has been around for quite some time but he can express all the nuances he wants to, albeit without the lustre of some years ago. This is truly impressive and so is his stamina. He is just as fresh when he comes to the end of this long and demanding programme as he was at the beginning – demanding, not only physically but also mentally. These are dark, sombre songs with death looming. The Michelangelo songs are among Wolf’s blackest. Musically they are possibly his most modern creations. Hans Hotter’s recording with Gerald Moore from the early 1950s – available on a 6-disc EMI box in the Icon series – has long been the touchstone version; now José van Dam runs him close with a similar care over words.
He is masterly also in the Brahms group, where the op. 32 songs are especially welcome. They are not too frequently heard. Brahms, for all his sensitivity concerning the poems and his noble melodies, has never reached the popularity of Schubert and Schumann. He is like Wolf - more of a composer for the connoisseurs; his songs need to be heard several times to open up and reveal their riches. Van Dam manages to unlock them through his intelligent phrasing and expressivity. Wie rafft’ ich mich (tr. 4) is certainly a masterly reading of a masterly song, but so is the intimate Du sprichst, dass ich mich täuschte (tr. 8) and indeed all the others, of which the fairly well known Meine Liebe ist grün (tr. 9) is particularly memorable.
Duparc was extremely self-critical and destroyed most of his compositions, but the seventeen mélodies that survived for posterity are regarded as masterpieces. These too can also be slow to expose their gold but they have been dearly loved by several generations of singers. There are several complete sets of the songs, including a very good Hyperion disc with Sarah Walker and Thomas Allen. Gérard Souzay has recorded many of them and José van Dam’s readings are closest to those of that distinguished singer. In certain passages their timbres are very similar, though van Dam is a notch darker.
Jacques Ibert was one of five composers who was commissioned to write music for the 1932 film about Don Quichotte. It was directed by Georg Pabst and had the legendary bass Chaliapin in the title role. None of the composers knew that the commission in reality was a competition and in the end it was Ibert’s music that was chosen. This angered Maurice Ravel, who was one the other four, and he contemplated a lawsuit against the producer. Ibert was very sad about this, since Ravel and he were very good friends. In the end Ravel changed his mind and their friendship continued. These songs are among the best things that Ibert ever wrote. They are deeply touching in their different ways, especially the last of them, Chanson de la mort. It is more a recitative than a proper song and requires an actor with singing ability. Chaliapin’s creator’s recording is a superb document of the ageing singing-actor still at the heights of his powers as an actor. His is a marvellously visual interpretation and it is difficult not to have one’s eyes filled with tears. José van Dam with more singing voice is almost in the same league – deeply moving. He has recorded these songs before. It was made with the same pianist as here on a disc entitled José van Dam et la Mélodie Francaise (Forlane), which I haven’t heard. He also tackled it with orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano on Erato, coupled with Frank Martin, Francis Poulenc, and Maurice Ravel, a disc that has a place of honour in my vocal collection. The orchestral version is, naturally enough, more colourful, more Spanish in atmosphere and recorded in 1992 the singer was marginally fresher in tone. The present version, recorded before an audience, sounds even more heartfelt.
For the conclusion of this recital van Dam chose something wholly different from the basically very serious and gloomy: Francis Poulenc’s Chansons gaillardes (Ribald Songs).
They are jolly, entertaining and sung with tongue-in-cheek. They are settings of 17th century texts and by today’s standards they are maybe not too conspicuously filthy. I suspect that more than one listener must have blushed at the premiere on 2 May 1926 when they were sung by Poulenc’s regular collaborator Pierre Bernac with the composer at the piano. Poulenc wrote in The Diary of My Songs: ‘I am fond of this collection where I tried to show that outright obscenity can adapt itself to music ...’ I won’t spoil the enjoyment of prospective buyers to find out by themselves how obscene they are, but the music – not as well balanced as his later, more mature output – is a pleasure in itself, whether one bothers to follow the texts or not. The audience in Brussels obviously enjoy the texts. For non-French speakers it is a pity that there are no translations but they can easily be obtained on the internet. Try this link for instance.
Le manoir de Rosemonde by Duparc marks a return to the more serious vein, though it is still Duparc in a rather accessible mood. In Maciej Pikulski van Dam has a partner who follows all the changes of mood in the recital.The balance is excellent.
I urge admirers of this great artist or lovers of art songs in general to give this recital a try.
Göran Forsling
I urge admirers of this great artist or lovers of art songs in general to give this recital a try.