Laurence Dale: French arias
This issue comes with the best of credentials and intentions. Pierre Jourdan set up the Theatre Francais de la Musique two years ago ''to reaffirm the presence of a French identity in the musical, and particularly the operatic, domain and to encourage a revival in France and abroad of the French musical heritage''. With reference to this disc, Jourdan states that its aim is ''to restore the authentic style of interpretation and the particular nature of French singing … and to liberate it from the misguided borrowings from the Italian school''. These are laudable aims. And it is something of a tribute to this country that the young tenor Laurence Dale should be the vessel of this renaissance, but he has been set a formidable task.
In the dear, dead days of 78rpm, a tenor might have recorded the arias included here, adding up to 75 minutes of consistently beguiling music, over a studio career of ten years or so. Dale is asked to encompass the lot in two sessions. He is also, of course, pitting himself against the standard set by tenors such as Clement, Slezak, Villabella Thill, Crooks, McCormack, Nash and Gedda who recorded one or more of these pieces memorably in the past. Dale stands up pretty well to many of the comparisons. His sweet, easily produced and attractive tenor, French in character runs through most of these pieces pleasingly, the technique accomplished, the tone consistently fresh.
He is particularly successful in music calling for refined mezza voce such as Alain's elegiac aria from Griselidis, the Berceuse from La muette de Portici, where comparisons with Jadlowker are quite feasible and ''Viens, gentille dame'' from La dame blanche, where both his phrasing and his French are faultless. It is good to hear Faust's cavatine sung for once with French elegance and lightness. Both here and in the Serenade from La jolie fille de Perth comparisons with Heddle Nash are pertinent. Dale hasn't the earlier tenor's minstrel-like timbre nor his innate ardour, but the style is just as attractive. The high C in ''Salut demeure'' is a little suspect, and that is typical of the top notes throughout the recital. Above A the sound is somewhat parched and insubstantial Dale unable to produce either a real head voice or a substantial tone a la Thill. That he can sing with more strength and character, is, however, shown in the Gluck-like ''Champs paternels'', where he can stand comparison with McCormack, and the interesting aria from Gounod's Sapho. Everything is delivered in admirable French.
The support from Kenneth Montgomery and the Nancy orchestra is as idiomatic as the singing. The recording keeps an even balance between voice and instruments except in the Jolie fille Serenade where the singer is distanced, perhaps deliberately, to suggest the hero is below his beloved Catherine's window. Only the French words are provided.'