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Soprano Sandrine Piau follows her exciting all-Mozart aria recital with a disc of Debussy melodies, where subtlety and declamatory elegance replace coloratura fireworks. Piaus sparing use of vibrato testifies to her acclaim as a singer of early music, and its "authentic" for turn-of-the-century music too. Her refined soprano is a quality instrument, though some may prefer the richer voice of Juliane Banse, whose recent Mozart-Debussy recital on ECM duplicates some of the material. But Piau covers more ground, including the 1913 Trois poémes de Stéphane Mallarmé and a brace of early songs from the 1880s since her well-chosen program spans Debussys life-long interest in melodies. She captures his idiom well--just listen to the delicacy of her phrasing in Cest lextase and the floating, disembodied close of De rêve and Soupir, among many such instances on this disc. Of special interest are the mellow-sounding piano accompaniments of Jos van Immerseel, playing an 1897 Erard, an instrument whose timbre Debussy would have expected in these songs. --Dan Davis
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This is the finest recording of Debussy mélodies that I've ever heard. The more I listen to this CD, the more I find the fine detail and overall impression of delicately sure brush-strokes upon the canvas of the music. Sandrine Piau is an exceptionally gifted singer with very clear intelligence and an emotional connection to the exquisite songs of this CD.
Aahhhh! Listen, if you can, to "Apparition" without melting. This is a beautiful, beautiful selection of songs, and the timbre of Ms Piau's voice conveys perfectly what Debussy intended. It has a sort of trembling rose near the thorn of sorrow quality about it, a dewdrop quivering upon the velvet of a flower, very fresh and sweet without being saccharine, almost pointed, almost sharp. It is a sweet dagger in the heart.
This is truly lovely singing. I know these songs so well, as a singer of them myself, and I can only say... Beautiful. Other recordings of Debussy songs have their own appeal - Elly Ameling is always delightful, for instance. But the stodginess or lack of meticulous detail and understanding of the style of French art song of some singers is all the more highlighted by the zephyr-like beauties and perfectly delineated details of this particular recording. There's nothing like hearing a French singer of quality singing French songs - it can be a perfect experience, and in this case it is indeed perfect.
Very, very highly recommended. I know of no better recording of Debussy mélodies.
The program is organized chronologically with two song cycles from Debussy's later years, the "Ariettes oubliées" and the "Proses lyriques", sandwiched between songs from Debussy's youth ("Mélodies de jeunesse") and his final cycle based on texts by Stéphane Mallarmé. It's obvious from the opening song, "Apparition", that Piau loves this music, as she milks the intensely expressive line with vigor and lets her supple voice soar with ease. In "C'est l'extase", the first song of the "Ariettes oubliées", she gently brings out each syllable's meaning indicating a gradual maturity in approach that is quite moving. But unlike Graham's consistently sonorous set, Piau lets loose with exuberant abandon on "Paysages belges: Chevaux de bois" when she enthusiastically describes the unfettered excitement of a carousel from a child's perspective. The last cycle is perhaps Piau's most accomplished, as she lends symmetry to the three songs from the sunrise described in the opening "Soupir" matches her glowing tone in the last song, "Évantail". Piau sings with astonishing precision and clarity of tone throughout no matter what the dramatic setting, whether she is being mournful or girlish. With the deeper tessitura of each succeeding cycle, Piau's voice deepens, and her interpretations take on a burnished quality. It is thrilling to hear such an ideal match between composer, voice and instrument.
The texts of these "mélodies" are poems by some of the greatest French poets - Verlaine and Mallarmé especially - and it's an added thrill to be able to distinguish one word from another, something only possible with the kind of 'historically informed' attention to diction that typifies singers like Piau.
The sensitive interaction between singer and pianist is what elevates these compositions from mere recital pieces to great music. Pianist Jos van Immerseel drapes his filagreed piano passages around Piau's voice like a silken ball gown. The piano he plays is a historical instrument, an Erard built in 1897. In the notes, Immerseel explains the differences in the action, escarpment, and pedals. What I can hear on the CD is the greater 'specificity' and transparency of overtones, a result of the strings being all parallel rather than overlapping and rumbling sympathetically in the manner of the more recent grand pianos. Immerseel states that the French of Debussy's era highly valued "jeu perlé" - tonal precision - and to my ears, there was good 'raison.'
Baroque-niks! Time to vary your collections! Let's declare this CD Giordano's "must buy" for May 2009!
I like Teyte, I like Piau, I like Shafer. I just wish that, with Piau, they'd used a contemporary piano.