The most recent album I found was Clair De Lune, Natalie Dessay's disc of Debussy songs. Dessay's intelligence and sensitivity are great assets to the interpretation of these vivid, romantic songs. The playing of Philippe Cassard made the piano part always wonderful, and sometimes breathtaking. I was not without reservations, though: the distinctive characteristics of each piece seemed a bit flattened by Dessay's approach. The longer selections on the disc shone: the "Chanson d'Ariel" and "La Demoiselle Elue" (the latter with Karine Deshayes) were highlights. Bonus points to those responsible for the cover design reminiscent of Alphonse Mucha's paintings.
|Seurat, "Young Woman Powdering Herself"|
The two discs I found which programmed music from a number of composers were very different from each other, and each, I thought, quite successful. Philippe Jaroussky's Opium: Mélodies francaises is both seductive and interesting. A generous mixture of favorite selections and unfamiliar melodies is given with lots of variation of vocal color, and impressive vocal agility. The equally committed pianist is Jerome Ducros. Jaroussky is deeply invested in the poetry of each of the songs, and unfailingly sensual; it is easy to imagine him in the slightly disreputable company of Cezanne's gamblers. Lastly, Marie-Nicole Lemieux' L'heure exquise is a treasure trove in itself. In addition to Debussy and Hahn, the album features Enescu and Chausson. Lemieux gives them all with voluptuous tone and radiant confidence. She and pianist Daniel Blumenthal take notably swifter tempos on a number of the Hahn songs than either Jaroussky or Graham, creating a sense of eager tenderness. Chausson and Enescu, less frequently heard, are a delight here, and Lemieux' vocal coloring brings beautiful expression to the poetry they set. The cover art could be a depiction of Renoir's wife or Lemieux herself.
I realize that this is a far from comprehensive list, and Les nuits d'été is another topic altogether; your suggestions for further listening, Gentle Readers, are eagerly solicited.