FAURÉ Mirages (Bettina Smith)
Bettina Smith turns to four of Fauré’s song-cycles for the latest instalment of her survey of fin de siècle mélodies for LAWO. Like its predecessor ‘Fêtes galantes’ (4/17), this is an uneven disc in several ways. Smith’s dark, low mezzo is unusual and striking in this repertory, and heightens the emotionally ambivalent mood both of Mirages itself and of the early, effusive Poème d’un jour. Again, however, one notices intermittent problems at the top of the voice, where the sound can become constricted under pressure, and pianissimos are sometimes imperfectly controlled. Moments of effort consequently intrude upon Poème and La bonne chanson, where the vocal range, though not colossal, is comparatively wide, and she is more suited to the greater introspection of Mirages and L’horizon chimerique, which keep her for the most part out of her upper registers and allow us to appreciate her soft singing and careful dynamic control.
‘Diane, Séléné’ from L’horizon, cool and hieratic, finds her at her best. Mirages impresses without attaining the sensual poise of Marianne Crebassa (Erato, 12/17) or the darker fire of William Dazeley (Signum, 4/18). The cycle brings, however, further problems in its wake, in that there are a couple of verbal lapses, unusual for a singer who clearly takes care with textural enunciation. ‘Mirage chinois’ replaces ‘miracle chinois’ in ‘Cygne sur l’eau’. More detrimental is ‘les yeux’ (eyes) for ‘les eaux’ (waters) in ‘Reflets dans l’eau’, precisely at the moment when ripples disturb the calm surface of the pond in which Fauré’s protagonist is gazing at her reflection.
Jan Willem Nelleke’s playing nicely captures the emotional resonance of those troubled waters at this point, which only makes the lapse more awkward. He’s a forthright accompanist, weightier in tone than some and quietly intense throughout, if just occasionally short on the poetic subtlety that characterises the finest Fauré interpretations.