Invitation au voyage
So much beauty, so much perfumed languor, so much rapture intermingled with sorrow is inhabited in this collection of ‘mélodies françaises’; the question is if you can stand a full 71 minutes of it. But never does this disc sink into dreamy sameness – and it emerges as one of the best of its kind to come out in recent years. The conviction, artistry and intelligent musical sequencing of mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac and pianist Pascal Jourdan are much in evidence in this thoroughly first-class package, with its rich but direct sound quality and packaging with full translations.
The usual chronological arrangement of composers is rejected in favour of an emotional arc that begins with traditionally shaped Duparc songs, progressing into the more abstract harmonies of Debussy’s settings of Baudelaire, going further into more rarefied realms with the same composer’s later Mallarmé settings, then coming a bit down to earth with the earlier, less stylised Boulanger songs from 1906 and then finishing with a few glasses of wine from Hahn.
The four little-known songs by Jacques de La Presle (1888 1969), written later than many in this collection, are tucked between Duparc and Debussy, making a nice bridge with their like-minded harmonic manner but also having an almost provocative brevity amid so much musical expanse elsewhere. In some ways, the progression can be charted by the punctuation of the texts. Duparc’s end in periods, Debussy’s with question marks, Boulanger with trails of ellipses and Hahn with an exclamation mark.
Performances by d’Oustrac and Jourdan are exactly what’s needed here. Many singers put a lid on their vocal amplitude with Debussy; d’Oustrac does not, though her alluring full-throatedness never spills over into operatic overkill. Jourdan’s piano sound is so rich one might describe it as chocolaty but with a precision and directness in his manner of expression that never lets the music drift off into vagueness.