Stéphanie d'Oustrac: Sirènes
This is a paradoxical disc in some ways. Given Stéphanie d’Oustrac’s track record in her native French repertory, most people, one suspects, will be drawn to it by the thought of her singing Berlioz, though the real revelation here is the Wesendonck Lieder, which is all the more surprising given that she has never, to my knowledge, sung Wagner on stage. It must be said at the outset that d’Oustrac’s artistry is compelling throughout but that the Wagner owes something of its impact to the fact that her voice is at its freshest. Elsewhere, the close-ish recording captures an occasional flutter or pulse in her tone when singing softly in her middle registers. It doesn’t pull her off pitch but it sometimes feels intrusive, most notably in Berlioz’s ‘Absence’ and Liszt’s ‘Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’.
In the Wesendonck Lieder, however, the pulse, though noticeable, is under greater control, and d’Oustrac’s smoky tone, careful dynamic shading and wonderful sense of line and phrase conspire with Pascal Jourdan’s marvellous playing to give us something special. The atmosphere of erotic morbidity is breathtakingly sustained in a performance that gazes beyond Tristan towards both the fin de siècle French mélodie and the darker Lieder of Strauss and Wolf. There’s an immense surge of passion at the heart of ‘Schmerzen’ and d’Oustrac’s ravishing, unearthly high pianissimos seem to hover in the air at the close of ‘Im Treibhaus’, where Jourdan is at his most refined and subtle. It’s all superbly done.
The same combination of intelligence and immediacy is very much at work in Berlioz and Liszt, meanwhile. The emotional climaxes in Les nuits d’été come, unusually, with ‘Sur les lagunes’, where the great outcry of ‘Ah! Comme elle était belle’ is truly shocking after the numbed grief of the opening, and in ‘Au cimetière’, where d’Oustrac’s unearthly pianissimos, so sensuous in Wagner, add immeasurably to the song’s horror. Liszt’s big narratives of the Lorely and the King of Thule are grippingly delivered, while Jourdan, tremendous throughout, does remarkable things as the boat founders in ‘Die Lorely’ and the King hurls his goblet into the sea. He also makes the strongest case for Berlioz’s much-maligned piano-writing, though even he can’t quite disguise the fact that the accompaniment of ‘Le spectre de la rose’ sounds like a transcription of an orchestral original, when, of course, the piano version came first. More than well worth hearing for the Wagner, though there is also much to enjoy elsewhere.