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Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)
Mélodies
Lorna Windsor (soprano)
Antonio Ballista (piano)
rec. 2018, Pian&Forte studio, Perugia, Italy
Sung texts available online
BRILLIANT 95741 [51:39 + 50:10]

According to François Lesure’s revised catalogue of Debussy’s works he wrote 91 songs or melodies for voice and piano, from Madrid: Madrid, princesse des Espagnes (1879) to Noël des enfants qui n'ont plus de maison: Nous n'avons plus de maison (1915). The former carries number L 1, the latter is L 147 and was only followed by the violin sonata and two more pieces. In other words Debussy’s songs cover all his creative life. This compilation encompasses 33 songs, a little more than 1/3 of his total output in the genre. It begins with Nuit d’etoiles, which is number L 2 in Lesure’s catalogue, and finishes with Noël des enfants and thus is a traversal that gives a very good overview of his development, though it isn’t strictly chronological. The choice of songs probably mirrors the singer’s personal preferences and some readers may miss some of their favourites, Beau soir for instance, which I believe is at the top of the list for many lovers of Debussy’s melodies. But there are many other goodies here to make this collection an attractive buy.

I have to admit that soprano Lorna Windsor was a new name to me but her credentials are no doubt impressive. She has had an international career as opera singer as well as recitalist with a special flair for French melodies, and she studied with Gerard Souzay, Hans Hotter and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf – three of the greatest art song interpreters of all time. This also indicates that she isn’t exactly in the first blossom of her youth but she sings with great care for nuances and she has a vibrant and brilliant top, quite beautiful but sometimes the uppermost notes seem strangely disjointed from the rest of the range and are frequently delivered at fortissimo. This is most prominent in the earlier songs and one gets used to it after a while. There are indeed many things here that are very good and she has a fine sense for the subtleties of the texts. I can believe that some listeners find her over-vibrant at times, but by and large her readings are very attractive and the words in the biography: “Passionate about the French language and devoted to French mélodie” is no hype. Just listen to the contemplative reading of En sourdine (CD 1 tr. 8) or Clair de lune (CD 1 tr. 10).

On CD 2 she often sings with great restraint and she is more economical with the bright top notes. The result is in the main utterly enjoyable. I recommend listening to La Flûte de Pan (CD 2 tr. 1) and Nuit sans fin (CD 2 tr. 4) for very attractive and stylish singing. Also lend an ear to the restraint with which she handles Il pleure dans mon Coeur (CD 2 tr. 7) and the powerful but balanced Chevaux de bois (CD 2 tr. 9). Generally I think the Verlaine cycle Ariettes oubliées (CD 2 tr. 6 – 11) is the best of Debussy’s cycles and it is admirably done here. But the Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (CD 2 tr. 14 – 16) is also in that league. The second of the songs, Placet futile is truly expressively sung here, conversationally. Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons makes a charming conclusion to this programme. Antonio Ballista is a docile accompanist and the tone of the 1923 Pleyel piano is attractive. The playing time is a bit parsimonious, but on the other hand this twofer costs less than one full-price CD.

With the plethora of excellent recordings of Debussy songs by many of the world’s greatest singers readily available in the catalogues, this issue cannot be a first recommendation, but I derived a lot of pleasure from it, once I got attuned to Lorna Windsor’s voice and image, and I believe others like it too. Just a piece of advice: sample before buying.

Göran Forsling


Contents
CD 1 [51:39]
1. Nuit d’étoiles [2:53]
2. Triolet à Phyllis [1:48]
3. Pierrot [1:48]
4. Clair de lune [2:25]
5. Apparition [4:00]
6. Le jet d’eau [6:33]
7. Mandoline [1:50]
8. En sourdine [3:42]
9. Fantoches [1:37]
10. Clair de lune (Fêtes Galantes I) [3:03]
11. Fleur des blés [2:20]
12. Le son du cor s’afflige vers les bois [3:30]
13. Romance [1:49]
14. De rêve … [7:15]
15. De soir … [4:35]
16. L’echelonnement des haies [1:51]

CD 2 [50:10]
1. La Flûte de Pan [2:44]
2. La Chevelure [5:59]
3. Le Tombeau des Naïades [2:43]
4. Nuit sans fin [2:20]
5. Pourquoi? [4:11]
6. C’est l’extase amoureuse [2:47]
7. Il pleure dans mon coeur [3:02]
8. L’ombre des arbres [2:17]
9. Chevaux de bois [3:30]
10. Green [2:25]
11. Spleen [2:30]
12. Colloque sentimental [4:37]
13. Je tremble en voyant ton visage [2:04]
14. Soupir [2:58]
15. Placet futile [2:26]
16. Évantail [2:56]
17. Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons [3:00]

 



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