Sunday, August 20, 2006

French Songs

Retirement seems to have filled me with anxiety, which I certainly hope is only temporary. In response my heart has turned toward the melodie/chanson represented by

Cecilia Bartoli Chant d’amour
Régine Crespin Legends
Véronique Gens Berlioz
Renée Fleming Night Song
Véronique Gens Nuit d'étoiles
Victoria de los Angeles The Fabulous Victoria de los Angeles

There is a lot of overlap in these recordings which in turn occasionally overlap with things I sang myself. In this category is Berlioz' "Les Nuit d'été," here performed by Régine Crespin and Véronique Gens. Crespin’s is the legendary performance, the greatest 100 recording, but it is Véronique Gens’ performance that most touches my heart. For my taste her voice is somewhat narrow, but her restrained passion cannot be faulted. Crespin makes us work to feel with her, while Gens opens her heart completely to these fabulous songs. Both these women’s French is a joy to hear.

Both de los Angeles and Crespin sing Ravel’s Shéhérazade. My heart can almost not bear Victoria. Was there ever a singer with such perfection of phrasing?

In the French there is passion without German pomposity or Italian excess. It takes only a truly great artist to bring it out. Victoria de los Angeles was such a singer—possessed of a gorgeous light soprano and a never to be exceeded musical intelligence, her heart must have been at least partly French.

For Shéhérazade I cannot choose between them. Each brings her own unique beauty—Victoria brings more sweetness, Régine more seriousness and dramatic intensity.

I have great personal affection for Poulenc’s “Hotel” which I performed once long ago. I remember especially the joy of sliding down on the words “ma cigarette,” which I performed with an almost painful slowness. I hated smoking but adored to sing about it. Perhaps one should light up at the end and inhale a few times. Crespin and Gens both sing it. Yes, Régine slides in the same place. Véronique is more a chanteuse than an opera singer here, but she slides in the same place, but not in the exaggerated way I did. Somehow I knew that was right.

I like Véronique Gens very much and hope to see her again some day.

Berlioz’ “Zaïde” for me will always belong to Cecilia, not least because she plays her own castanets.

Another song I once sang is Fauré’s “Après un Rêve,” here represented by Renée Fleming and Véronique Gens. Renée's rendition is very intense, almost operatic. Roughly it means “I dreamt I was happy. Alas, I have awakened. Return oh mysterious night,” a sentiment I very much identified with, as I recall. Véronique just sings it.

I have to say in this group Renée is the farthest from the true French.

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