Marianne Crebassa: Secrets
Marianne Crebassa’s French song album surveys the fin de siècle mélodie from Duparc to late Fauré, placing the emphasis on settings of Symbolist poetry and the power of music either to unlock or to encapsulate its ‘secrets’ (whence the title). With her warm tone and often remarkable way with both vocal colour and verbal inflection, Crebassa is outstanding in this repertory, and in Fazıl Say she has an accompanist whose direct yet subtle approach matches her own.
Trois Chansons de Bilitis, with which they open, gets one of its sexiest performances on disc, with Crebassa wonderful in her judgement of the thin dividing line between sensuality and naivety. The outer songs of the Trois Mélodies de Verlaine have an exuberant sweep, though time seems to stand still in the central ‘Le son du cor s’afflige vers les bois’, with its suggestion of distant sounds echoing across a desiccated landscape. One false move in Fauré’s Mirages, meanwhile, and the cycle can seem overwrought, though the performance here is a model of restraint: Crebassa gently teases out the nuances in Renée de Brimont’s rather self-conscious text; Say does extraordinary things with the ceaselessly shifting accompaniments.
There are a couple of surprises along the way, however. First of all, Shéhérazade comes with piano – not for the first time on disc, though in this instance a solo flute is added for the second song. Crebassa projects text and line with just the right combination of elegance and insinuation, but the piano-writing, particularly in ‘Asie’, sounds altogether more menacing and aggressive than the more familiar orchestral version – a reminder, perhaps, that Ravel’s Orient is as dangerous as it is attractive.
Second, the final track is Say’s own Gezi Park 3, of which Crebassa is the dedicatee, the last in a trilogy of works composed in response to the brutal suppression of protests against the proposed urbanisation of Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park by the authorities in 2013. An unsparing wordless lament, it draws on traditional Turkish music and takes Crebassa almost to her limits with leaps between soaring high lyricism and guttural phrases low in her voice. Say’s piano-writing, initially Debussian, turns jagged and increasingly angry at the climax.
Some might question its inclusion; but we are to some extent prepared for its emotional landscape by the unusual Duparc group that immediately precedes it – four bleak songs about absence and loss, during which the mood perceptibly darkens. Crebassa brings operatic weight to ‘Élégie’ with its echoes of Tristan, and the Gothic frissons of ‘Au pays où se fait la guerre’ add to the prevailing sense of anguish. Here, as throughout, the combination of intelligence, immediacy and subtlety is utterly compelling and marks ‘Secrets’ out as one of the finest French song recitals of recent years. I cannot recommend it too highly.