This disc provides unalloyed pleasure and is not to be missed.
Two things that I’ve learned over the last few years are that any recital disc from Susan Graham is likely to be An Event and that she has a particular affinity for French repertoire. Her latest CD reinforces both points.
Malcolm Martineau, her regular recital partner, tells us in an introductory note, that this particular programme, which they toured in 2007 and 2008, was assembled as a kind of "
menu gourmand or tasting menu." Each of the composers is represented by just one song – though, actually, Honegger’s allocation is three tiny ones that go together. The songs are presented in roughly chronological orderRead more and are divided into four groups, with the Poulenc piece standing in splendid isolation at the end.
Although all the great names of
mélodie are included several of their items are rarities. We also hear a number of songs by largely forgotten composers as well as pieces by several composers who are well known for their music in other genres but not really as songwriters. In other words, this is a most enterprising collection and, to continue Martineau’s metaphor, a most enticing menu.
Collectors will know that Susan Graham’s voice is a glorious instrument. Her tone is warm and full, yet also very focused; her range is extensive; and she relishes the words. All these virtues are well to the fore in this recital.
There are several items here that are real rarities. I’d never even heard of Émile Paladilhe, I’m afraid. His
Psyché is rather sentimental and sweet but Miss Graham sings it most touchingly and with sincerity. She makes it a delight from start to finish. Another name – and song – that was new to me was that of Alfred Bachelet and his
Chère nuit. This was written for Melba and it’s suffused with sultry emotion. There’s a quasi-operatic dimension too. Susan Graham, with her voluptuous tone, seems ideally suited to it. She identifies completely with the song and, as is so often the case in this recital, spins an exquisite, long line. Frankly, this is singing for which to die.
Moving to some more familiar names, she delivers the opening Bizet item deliciously, responding beautifully to the innocent, eager charm of the setting. She follows this with a piece by Frank, who I’ve never thought of as a composer of
mélodies. In fact, he didn’t compose much in this genre but Miss Graham makes a very strong case for
Nocturne. This is another item in which one admires her sense of line. She and the admirable Malcolm Martineau make the change into the major key for the last verse a lovely moment.
The song by Chabrier is a delight. Much of the interest here lies in the inventive, chirruping piano part, which Martineau plays superbly. As Gerald Larner says in his note, the vocal line in the Chausson item ‘floats effortlessly on an ingeniously fluttering accompaniment’. Both Miss Graham and her pianist display wonderful yet discreet artistry here and their mutual understanding and rapport ensure that this song is a great success.
Among the better-known names, the Debussy piece receives a sensuous performance, as does the Fauré
Vocalise. The Canteloube offering is one of his celebrated
Chants d’Auvergne. Here, shorn of the orchestration, which can sometimes seem to swamp these songs, the song becomes touchingly simple. The melody is, as it were, taken back to basics, or very nearly. It’s a lovely performance and it takes real artistry to spin a gossamer vocal line in the way that Susan Graham does here. The Duparc song, placed much earlier in the recital, couldn’t be in greater contrast and it’s a tribute to Miss Graham that she can encompass such a variety of music so effortlessly. This is a dramatic Big Song and she projects it marvellously. Gerald Larner draws a parallel with Mahler – or, to be precise, ‘pre-Mahler’ - which I must say hadn’t occurred to me before, but which seems very apt.
This CD contains the third recording that I’ve heard by Miss Graham of Hahn’s
À Chloris and this is as good as any of its predecessors. This piece could have been written for her, so well does it suit her voice and expressive range. Malcolm Martineau weights the Bach-pastiche piano part perfectly and supports his singer beautifully in a sublime account of the song.
After displaying her gift for humour in Rosenthal’s
La Souris d’Angleterre, which she sings with a definite twinkle in her eye until the pathos of the pay-off, Susan Graham closes with a wonderful performance of Poulenc’s
La Dame de Monte Carlo. This was written for the great Denise Duval and was originally scored for orchestra. In fact it’s a mini-
scena. By turns the music is witty, voluptuous, vivacious and touchingly melancholic – almost a microcosm of Poulenc’s output, in fact. Miss Graham is in total command of the piece and responds to each change of mood superbly. Her performance crowns a wonderfully inventive and superbly executed recital.
This is as fine a disc of
mélodies as I’ve heard in a long time. The programme is marvellously varied and full of interest and both Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau are on top form throughout. Gerald Larner’s succinct but excellent notes set each item in context. Finally, the recording is excellent, balancing the performers very well and providing truthful and musical sound. This disc provides unalloyed pleasure and is not to be missed.