Sandrine Piau: Chimère
As Sandrine Piau explains in a brief booklet note, this album completes a leisurely triptych that started with ‘Evocation’ a decade ago (2/08) and continued with ‘Après un rêve’ (7/11). It’s been a bit of a wait, and ‘Chimère’ appears on Alpha rather than on Naïve, but it’s certainly been worth it. The title seems primarily to provide the excuse for some lovely illustrations from across the centuries in the lavish hardback book that houses the physical disc; and the theme of the recital is perhaps better understood as dreams and, in Piau’s words, ‘the crazy urge to make our dreams come true’.
As before, the repertoire is eclectic and, also as before, Susan Manoff offers supremely sensitive and subtle piano-playing to complement singing of intense beauty: beguilingly gentle of timbre, Piau’s is a voice that can bloom sensuously at the top, and which she controls exquisitely. It’s a long time since I’ve heard a more purely gorgeous account of Wolf’s ‘Verschwiegene Liebe’, for example, and her performance of Gurney’s ‘Sleep’ took my breath away on first listening – and on subsequent listenings, for that matter – made all the more seductive by Piau’s slightly relaxed, tension-free (and pretty much accent-free) way of singing in English.
She and Manoff cast their spell right from the start, though, with a yielding and deeply touching account of Loewe’s ‘Ach neige’. The three Schumann songs left me longing for more – the performance of ‘Dein Angesicht’ is another highlight. Reviewing ‘Après un rêve’, Richard Wigmore drew attention to Piau’s less than ideally sharp consonants singing German, and it’s true that she could do more with some of the words here too (one notices a lack of definition in ‘Nixe Binsefuss’), but it seems a small price to pay for such musical and heartfelt performances.
There’s no such issue, of course, with Piau’s French, and she is by turns witty and seductive in Debussy and Poulenc. She’s terrific, too, in Robert Baksa’s ‘Heart! we will forget him’, Barber’s wonderfully subtle ‘Solitary Hotel’, as well as the Three Dickinson Songs by Previn that conclude the recital.
In short, though one might quibble with certain interpretative aspects of individual performances, this is one of the most fascinating, satisfying and moving recital discs to have come my way for some time. It’s beautifully recorded too.