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Debussy: Clair De Lune / Natalie Dessay, Philippe Cassard


Release Date: 03/13/2012 
Label:  Virgin Classics   Catalog #: 7307692  
Composer:  Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie DessayPhilippe CassardCatherine MichelKarine Deshayes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jeune Choeur de Paris
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



DEBUSSY Claire de Lune. Nuit d’etoiles. Pantomime. Pierrot. Apparition. En Sourdine. Fête galante. Romance. Les Cloches. Rondel chinois. Flots, palmes. Sables. La Romance d’Ariel. Regret. Le Matelot qui tombe à l’eau. Coquetterie posthume. L’Archet. Romance. Les Elfes. La Damoiselle élue Natalie Dessay (sop); Karine Deshayes (mez); Philippe Cassard (pn); Henri Chalet (cond); Jeune CH de Paris VIRGIN 7307682 (72:58)


This is a surprise direction for Natalie Dessay to take. Speaking as one Read more of her most devoted fans, Dessay is a rather inconsistent creature away from the theater. Her extraordinary physicality (and beauty) coupled to that crystalline yet supple coloratura soprano have made her one of the operatic wonders of recent years, injecting some much-needed verve into repertoire that can come across as twittery and air-headed as the performers are usually deemed to be. Yet drag Dessay out of an opera house and she’s a bag of nerves. The coughing fits and botched entries of her concert and oratorio work point to a personality that needs costumes and characters to relax into. It is telling that she trained first as an actress, and unsurprisingly, she is rarely to be found with just a piano for support. Aside from some Fauré songs (on a fine but little-known REM cycle), a rumored Ravel disc (unreleased for contractual reasons), and a bootleg of a rather fine recital from 1996, Dessay has studiously avoided the glare of the chamber hall. Until now.


Although this is very much a studio album, Dessay, as on many of her previous releases, has arranged an international tour in which to plug this fine tribute to Debussy in the 150th anniversary of his birth, with her making her debut (at 46!) in venues like the Wigmore Hall. Having just seen her in Toulouse, doing this recital, with some Chabrier and Duparc for ballast, it was fascinating to see how she turned her inexperience and odd memory lapses into near cabaret, riffing with pianist Philippe Cassard, or admonishing the audience for applauding at the wrong time. Flaws aside, it was a world away from the arch and bland snootiness that many recitalists display in this repertoire.


Still, it is not just Dessay’s show. This is very much a pet project of Cassard’s, and the real coup is the presentation of four unpublished songs Cassard discovered in the archives of an arts patron. The most extraordinary of these is Les Elfes , Debussy’s now longest song, a perfumed, skittish setting of Leconte de Lisle’s Erlking-tinged romantic ballad, but quite frankly they are all gems, with a wonderful salon feel to Romance, and brooding, almost Schubertian turmoil in L'Archet.


Elsewhere in this collection of early songs (focusing on those written for his lover Marie Vasnier, a wife of one of his patrons), we have the familiar setting of Verlaine’s Clair de lune and Théadore de Banville’s Pierrot and Fête Galante . Not all will take to the continuous gleam of Dessay’s sound, but her word expression is beyond reproach, and throughout Cassard is a probing accompanist, not overplaying the jokiness of Pierrot nor smothering the more overtly romantic settings, such as Regret or Nuit d’étoiles . This is Debussy playing of good taste, without ever being dull, and it makes me keen to explore his Debussy cycle, initially made for Accord but now available on Decca.


As an unusual but satisfying ending, we are given an immaculate performance of Debussy’s sensual mini-oratorio La Damoiselle élue , in a chamber version new to me. The choir and mezzo are flawless, and without orchestra to fight against, Dessay takes her fragile sound down to a delectable whisper. In many ways this is the highlight of the disc and supplements the classic orchestral versions with Victoria de los Angeles or, for a similar vulnerability to the singing, Ileana Cotrubas. For the songs, there isn’t that much competition, although many looking for a safer but similarly charming approach might like Gillian Keith’s disc of early Debussy, although after Cassard, Simon Leaper’s playing comes across as jittery and mannered. Odd moments of stridency aside, Dessay’s chief strength here is simplicity.


But as lovely and pristine as Dessay’s studio singing is, I do miss some of her onstage cheek here, and I would also be a poor critic if I said her singing hasn’t changed a bit. It is still a remarkable instrument, soft and pearlescent to the very end of her stratospheric top, but the bottom is getting gritty and her vibrato wider. But who else can sing so unfussily but with lovely diction, and, coupled to Cassard’s fluid, unsickly playing, it doesn’t ram the young, lovestruck Debussy’s perfume and poetry down our throats.


So all in all a very classy album, with very good notes coupled to full texts and translations. Sound is pristine if a little voice-heavy, which is a shame, because despite Dessay’s brilliance, I think Cassard is the true hero here. For us nerdy, uncritical fans, though, this is a terrific change of direction for Dessay, although, with my critic’s hat on, I might also add that other listeners may find her a rather strident, unconventional mélodie interpreter. But this is Debussy away from the musty gloom of the museum cabinet, and along with the obvious draw of the rediscovered songs, it makes it a must buy.


FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
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Works on This Recording

1.
Rondel chinois by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: circa 1881; France 
2.
Regret: Devant le ciel by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1884; France 
3.
Pierrot by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1881; France 
4.
Pantomime by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1882; France 
5.
Nuit d'étoiles by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1880; France 
6.
La romance d'Ariel by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1884; France 
7.
En sourdine by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1882; France 
8.
Deux romances by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1891; France 
9.
Coquetterie posthume by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1883; France 
10.
Clair de lune by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1882; France 
11.
Apparition by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1884; France 
12.
Romance by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
13.
Les Elfes by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
14.
Flots, Palmes, Sables by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano), Catherine Michel (Harp)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
15.
La damoiselle élue by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Philippe Cassard (Piano), Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Karine Deshayes (Mezzo Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jeune Choeur de Paris
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1887-1888; France 

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