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Melodies / Stephane Degout, Helene Lucas


Release Date: 01/25/2011 
Label:  Naive   Catalog #: 5209  
Composer:  Emmanuel ChabrierClaude DebussyHenri DuparcReynaldo Hahn,   ... 
Performer:  Stèphane DegoutHelene Lucas
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

These are well conceived and thought-through readings that should attract wide audiences. The recorded sound is good and there are interesting liner notes. Duparc very often gets the best out of singers and here Le Galop is almost a knock-out: lively, almost wild with a dramatic illustrative piano part. The other three songs are among his most noblest and receive readings to match.

Quite a few discs with French melodies have come my way during the last two or three years. Even though, generally speaking, I find German Lieder more immediate and attractive, French songs more and more open up and let me into their specific world. Here we are treated to songs by half a dozen composers, several of whom one can always expect
Read more on a mixed recital like this – but no Fauré this time. And a couple of them are not particularly well known for their songs. The singer, Stéphane Degout, was Schaunard on the DG recording of La bohème under Bertrand de Billy, which was issued almost three years ago. I found him very good in a role that isn’t exactly a showstopper but this is my first encounter with him as a performer of art songs. Since his acclaimed debut as Papageno in Aix-en-Provence in 1999, he has been in great demand in many opera houses. Some years ago felt that he wanted to resume his interest in Lieder and Mélodies that he had cultivated during his studies at the Conservatoire in Lyon, together with Hélène Lucas. They make a splendid duo: sensitive and flexible with a good sense for the fine nuances as well as dramatic involvement.

The opening Debussy songs are splendid examples of the fascinating correspondence between the vocal line and the piano part. Debussy is often perfumed but never stale. Le son du cor (tr. 2) is especially well sung, soft and intimate. Duparc very often gets the best out of singers and here Le Galop is almost a knock-out: lively, almost wild with a dramatic illustrative piano part. The other three songs are among his most noblest and receive readings to match.

Saint-Saëns’s songs are rather infrequently heard but these two indicate that it would be well worth the effort to search some others out as well. The second of these Persian songs, Tournoiement, songe d’opium (Spinning: an opium dream) is highly individual and the hectic, nervous feeling of eternal activity is so well depicted in the accompaniment. Chabrier, best known for his colourful orchestral works, may be a surprise to many song aficionados with his charmingly melodious L’île heureuse (The Happy Isle). It radiates happiness in a way that few art songs do. Chanson pour Jeanne also begins on a happy note but the mood changes to bitter sorrow, well illustrated in the accompaniment. The third song¸ Les Cigales, is memorably sung by Hugues Cuénod on a Nimbus disc that I reviewed less than a year ago. Degout, though he has more voice, isn’t quite in that class but it is a winning performance even so and it confirms that Chabrier’s songs has a freshness that makes them stand out from his fellow French composers.

Reynaldo Hahn has long been a favourite and these are agreeable readings of agreeable songs.

The concluding two groups of songs are among the most important of French songs during the 20th century – though they are quite different. Ravel chose to set the prose of Jules Renard, where he aimed at finding the speech rhythms and embedded the texts in an atmospheric and colourful piano part. Debussy set Medieval poet François Villon’s juicy ballades and found, particularly in Ballade des femmes de Paris, a down-to-earth irony that is liberating. Both groups, or cycles, are performed with finesse and round off a very appealing recital. Degout occasionally lacks tonal variety but these are well conceived and thought-through readings that should attract wide audiences. The recorded sound is good and there are interesting liner notes by Rémy Stricker.

– Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International

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“Now this is very profound, what rhythm is,” wrote Virginia Woolf to a friend. “A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind … and as it breaks and tumbles, it makes words to fit it.” Stéphane Degout’s handsome and heroic voice, in happy alliance with rhythm, word, and finally melodic line, brings one back, full circle, to the visual/emotional source she speaks of. Just as Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s recent recordings of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky romances (Ondine) raised the genre’s performance to a new standard of excellence, so Dégout, in this recital, has raised an already high standard of excellence in regard to the French mélodie.


Traditionally, the words “French baritone” bring to mind the heady, fragile, sometimes overly sensitive singing of Pierre Bernac, Martial Singher, Gérard Souzay, and Bernard Kruysen. Certainly these distinguished artists exhibit a variety of marvelous assets either collectively or individually, but they have their liabilities, too, and the liabilities are considerable, whether it be in one case an unreliable technique, in another a rather homely instrument, in another a rather limited range. Stéphan Degout has virtually all of their excellent qualities, and almost none of their shortcomings. His technique is generally more solid, the voice itself is more ample, more robust, more beautiful, and his artistry less overt, less self-conscious. One of course feels in his predecessors the strong presence of the performing artist behind the song, but with Degout one is further aware of the human being, the man himself, behind the artist.


The opening mélodie, La Mer est plus belle que les cathédrales, has a majesty, breadth, and beauty of tone unmatched by Gérard Souzay’s EMI performance. The song, the poem, the subject matter seem to loom larger than Souzay’s voice or personality. The dynamics are not as clearly defined, due perhaps to technical constraints. Degout’s vocal line is more broadly cast, depending less on consonants and more on quality of tone for effect. It is more declamatory, more lionhearted.


Chabrier’s L’Îsle hereuse, with its effusive and wide dramatic range, is a high point of this disc, as Degout has the power to express without affectation the many changes of scene and mood that pass in rapid succession throughout the course of the song. His expansive use of rubato captures the surge of the sea, the breadth of the surrounding landscape, and still skillfully bridges the entire octave of each stanza. His astute accompanist, Hélène Lucas, proves a strong support to his flowing phrases, but one notices that during the introduction and interludes, when the voice is absent, the phrases become mere isolated units, a spelling out of words rather sentences. She does not achieve the radiant tone and rhythmic buoyancy of Pierre Bernac’s accompanist, Francis Poulenc, in their Testament recording. Although Bernac gives an ebullient, sunny performance, and the piece is polished to a high luster, his enthusiasm seems rather self-conscious whereas Degout’s radiates authenticity.


It is very difficult to strike the right tone, or, better to say, a convincing tone, in Debussy’s Villon settings. First of all, the poems’ myriad, often conflicting elements of coyness, sincerity, passion, sarcasm, courtly medieval conceits, and low-life references make it so. Then there are the considerations of Debussy’s stringent musical demands to take into account. Bernac’s version of the “Ballade de Villon à son âme” is passionate and scrupulously constructed, but his wiry timbre and cosseted vocal production do not lend themselves to the florid temperament of the vagabond poet. The words are fussed with a great deal resulting in the dissolution of Debussy’s broad, albeit elusive melodic lines. Martial Singher’s performance (Historic Recordings) is more gracefully phrased, more elegant, formal, and muscular. There is less declamation, less rubato, and generally more pure singing. However the singer seems to stand aloof from the subject and the character, giving a sensation that he is listening to himself, monitoring his albeit superb style, striking his pose. Neither of these earlier artists creates the necessary illusion that style and technique are a given, born of instinct. In contrast, Degout bests the musical and poetic nuances of Bernac, and far exceeds him in vocal opulence. The young baritone also shares Singher’s fine qualities, but, unlike his predecessor, he seems to stand in the absolute center of the song. Degout’s abundant musical gifts, his intelligence and integrity, resurrect, as no other performance I know, the sights seen, the emotions felt, by the wild and vagabond poet of the 15th century. They are as alive and present as the man who sings them.


FANFARE: Raymond Beegle
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Works on This Recording

1.
Mélodies (6): no 4, L'île heureuse by Emmanuel Chabrier
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1890; France 
2.
Chanson pour Jeanne by Emmanuel Chabrier
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; France 
3.
Mélodies (6): no 5, Les cigales by Emmanuel Chabrier
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1890; France 
4.
Mélodies (3) de Verlaine by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1891; France 
5.
Ballades (3) de François Villon by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910; France 
6.
Le galop by Henri Duparc
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1869; France 
7.
Lamento by Henri Duparc
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1883; France 
8.
Elégie by Henri Duparc
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1874; France 
9.
La vie antérieure by Henri Duparc
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1884; France 
10.
Mélodies (20), Volume 1: Trois jours de vendange by Reynaldo Hahn
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 1895; France 
11.
Mélodies (20), Volume 1: Cimetière de campagne by Reynaldo Hahn
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 1895; France 
12.
Histoires naturelles by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906; France 
13.
Mélodies persanes (6), Op. 26: no 5, Au cimetière by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1870; France 
14.
Mélodies persanes (6), Op. 26: no 6, Tournoiement by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Stèphane Degout (Baritone), Helene Lucas (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1870; France 

Sound Samples

3 Melodies: No. 1. La mer est plus belle
3 Melodies: No. 2. Le son du cor
3 Melodies: No. 3. L'echelonnement des haies
Le galop
Lamento
Elegie
La vie anterieure
Melodies persanes, Op. 26: No. 5. Au cimetiere
Melodies persanes, Op. 26: No. 6. Tournoiement
L'ile heureuse
Chanson pour Jeanne
Les cigales
3 Jours de vendange
Cimetiere de campagne
Histoires naturelles (Natural Histories): No. 1. Le paon (The Peacock)
Histoires naturelles (Natural Histories): No. 2. Le grillon (The Cricket)
Histoires naturelles (Natural Histories): No. 3. Le cygne (The Swan)
Histoires naturelles (Natural Histories): No. 4. Le martin-pecheur (The Kingfisher)
Histoires naturelles (Natural Histories): No. 5. Le pintade (The Guinea-Fowl)
3 Ballades de Villon: No. 1. Ballade de Villon a s'amye
3 Ballades de Villon: No. 2. Ballade que Villon fait a la requeste de sa mere
3 Ballades de Villon: No. 3. Ballades des femmes de Paris

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