Les Métaboles - Une nuit américaine
Les Métaboles/Léo Warynski
rec. April 2016 Chapelle du Lycée Saint-Louis, Paris, France
Full song texts provided and English translations
Shakespeare Songs
Isabelle Druet (mezzo-soprano)
Anne Le Bozec (piano)
rec. February 2016 Théâtre et auditorium de Poitiers, France
Full song texts provided and English translations

These two lovely releases from the French label NoMadMusic are both welcome collections which explore a wide range of vocal works from very different perspectives. French vocal ensemble Les Métaboles has released an album of twentieth and twenty-first centuries a cappella works titled Une nuit américaine (An American Night) all by American composers. Titled Shakespeare Songs this recital disc from mezzo-soprano Isabelle Druet and pianist Anne Le Bozec comprises of a themed collection of songs to texts from Shakespeare plays.

French vocal ensemble Les Métaboles founded in 2010 by music director Léo Warynski consists of young singers committed to a cappella repertoire predominantly focused on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As well as commissioning new works the ensemble also sings Baroque and has excelled with Handel’s Dixit Dominus and JS Bach’s Motets. Titled Une nuit américaine (An American Night) there are fifteen well chosen songs a mix of sacred and secular texts written between 1921-2002 by Stucky, Whitacre, Copland, Barber, Lauridsen and Feldman. It seems that the album was devised as a kind of “New World nocturne” and is dedicated to the memory of Steven Stucky who died in February 2016. Directed by Léo Warynski, Les Métaboles is in remarkable form providing fresh and atmospheric performances together with impeccable unity and a strong sense of dedication. The word painting is moulded beautifully with convincing meanings and not just in the sacred works. Stucky’s Whispers for quartet and full choir to a Walt Whitman text is outstanding especially for its beautiful and affecting vocal harmonies. Another highlight is the deeply satisfying O magnum mysterium (Oh, great mystery) by Lauridsen one of the most moving a cappella pieces I have heard and Barber’s Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) the composer’s choral arrangement of his famous Adagio for Strings elevated in feeling is quite sublimely sung. Recorded in Paris at Chapelle du Lycée Saint-Louis there is a noticeable reverberation which adds atmosphere to the works. In the booklet there is a helpful essay from ensemble president Benoit Walther which provides concise information on the songs. I am also delighted to report that full song texts and English translations are provided.

Titled Shakespeare Songs the partnership of Isabelle Druet and Anne Le Bozec presents a striking collection of twenty-four songs, compositions which span over a hundred and thirty years all using texts from Shakespeare plays. Over the centuries composers from many different countries have been drawn to Shakespearean texts providing an almost inexhaustible supply of works for the performer and listener. Druet and Le Bozec emphasise in the booklet notes how two of Shakespeare’s most fascinating female characters Ophelia and Desdemona recur with such regularity. Mezzo-soprano Druet has a fine, cultured voice and seems very much at home with these songs, which involves singing in four languages. Certainly this collection doesn’t fully stretch Druet dramatically in her high register as she would be with the demands of opera. The chosen five from Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s set of Shakespeare Songs including the glorious Ophelia are a real find as are the three Korngold songs; all sheer delight. My highlights are probably the Saint-Saëns Ballade: La mort d'Ophélie which hits the spot for Druet’s accomplishment and also her lovely tone in Brahms’s Five Ophelia Songs. At times an additional degree of vocal creativity would improve matters such as applying subtle expression to Schubert’s renowned An Sylvia as sung so wonderfully on record by artists Schwarzkopf, Ameling, Popp et al. Le Bozec’s piano accompaniment is consistently responsive throughout the recital programme. The song recital recorded at Théâtre et auditorium de Poitiers, France has a most satisfying sound which is clear and well balanced. There isn’t much in the way of a booklet essay yet it’s really good news that full song texts are provided with English translations.

These are two excellent and especially well thought-out releases from NoMadMusic that will provide real pleasure. The album Une nuit américaine (An American Night) from Les Métaboles is something special.
Michael Cookson

Full track listings
Les Métaboles - Une nuit américaine
Steven STUCKY (1949-2016)
1. Whispers (2002) [7.17]
Eric WHITACRE (b. 1970)
2. Lux Aurumque (Light and Gold) (2000) [4.04]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Four Motets: (1921)
3. Help us, O Lord [3.30]
4. Thou, O Jehovah, abideth forever [2.07]
5. Have mercy on us, O my Lord [4.03]
6. Sing ye praises to our king [1.43]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
7. Agnus Dei (1936, choral version arranged 1967) [7.11]
Morten LAURIDSEN (b. 1943)
8. O magnum mysterium (Oh, great mystery) (1994) [6.44]
Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
9. Christian Wolff In Cambridge (1963) [3.35]
Reincarnations, Op. 16 (1942)
10. Mary Hynes, Op. 16/1 [2.21]
11. Anthony O’Daly, Op. 16/2 [3.54]
12. The Coolin, Op. 16/3 [3.49]
13. Let Down the Bars, O Death, Op. 8/2 (1936) [2.13]
14. To be sung on the water, Op. 42/2 (1969) [3.22]
15. Sleep (2000) [5.08]

Isabelle Druet et Anne Le Bozec - Shakespeare Songs
Shakespeare Songs, Op. 24 (1921/25)
1. Arise! [1.40]
2. Old Song [3.38]
3. Seals of Love [1.07]
4. Apemanthus's Grace [0.52]
5. Ophelia [5.49]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
6. La Mort d'Ophélie (1854) [7.21]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Chansons de Shakespeare, Op. 28
7. Chanson de clown (1890) [3.36]
8. Chanson d'amour (1891) [2.10]
9. Chanson d'Ophélie (1896) [1.50]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
10. Ballade: La mort d'Ophélie, (c.1857) [3.56]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
11. Five Ophelia Songs, WoO posth. 22 (1873) [4.51]:
i. Wie erkenn' ich dein Treublieb
ii. Sein Leichenhemd weiss wie Schnee
iii. Auf morgen ist Sankt Valentins Tag
iv. Sie trugen ihn auf der Bahre bloss
v. Und kommt er nicht mehr zurück?
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
12. An Sylvia, D891 (1826) [2.40]
13. Ständchen, (Horch, horch die Lerch), D889 (1826) [4.49]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
14. Fancy, FP 174 (1959) [1.22]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
15. Under the Greenwood Tree (1912) [1.55]
16. Orpheus (1912) [2.31]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
17. Chanson, Op. 57 No. 1 (1889) [1.45]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Deux melodies, op. 60 (1909):
18. Kom nu hit, dod!, Op. 60/1 [3.01]
19. Hallila, Op. 60/2 [0.58]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
20. Lied des transferierten Zettel: Vier Gedichte nach Heine (1888/96) [0.47]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
21.Schlusslied des Narren: Fünf Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 127 (1850/51) [1.19]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957).
22. Come Away, Death: Songs of the Clown, Op. 29 (1937) [2.41]
23. Desdemona’s Song: 4 Lieder nach Shakespeare, Op. 31 (1937/41) [2.47]
24. When birds do sing: 4 Lieder nach Shakespeare, Op. 31 (1937/41) [4.09]