Sunday 14 September 2014

Nicole Cabell - Chanson d'avril

Nicole Cabell - Chanson d'avril
Songs by Bizet, Duparc, Liszt, Ravel; Nicole Cabell, Craig Terry; Delos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 03 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Survey of French melodies with the known and lesser known from the American lyric soprano

Soprano Nicole Cabell won the BBC Singer of the World Competition in Cardiff in 2005 and has since then made a name for herself as a lyric soprano with a nice line in the more coloratura end of the market (I remember a notable appearance in Halevy's La Juive in concert with the Royal Opera House a few years ago and she has since returned for Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles). She has released a recital disc on Delos, accompanied by pianist Craig Terry in an attractive selection of French song. Starting with Bizet and Duparc, the selection goes by way of Liszt before finishing with Ravel's Sheherazade and Cinq melodies populaire grecques.

Cabell and Terry start with a group of songs by Georges Bizet, charming melodies in which the voice is given primacy and the penchant for orientalisme is to the fore (though this is the East seen firmly from a Parisian arm chair). Adieu de l'hotesse arabe (Arabian Hostess's Farewell) is typical of such. Ouvre ton coeure (Open your heart) moves to the exoticism of Spain, with a delightful bolero rhythm, whilst Pastorale is similarly Spanish theme though somewhat slower and with quite elaborate vocals. In all three Cabell brings out the lovely lyric langour of the songs, singing with a flexible and well filled line. The final Bizet song is Chanson d'avril (April song) to which Cabell brings a nice ardent vibrancy..

Nicole Cabell
Nicole Cabell
Cabell's voice is quite rich and bright, very forward though the recording captures her vibrato somewhat. (I suspect that she does not sound quite like this in live recital, with the room to modulate the sound more). Much as these performances delight, I have to point out that in the Bizet (and Duparc and Liszt), Cabell just does not make enough of the French words for my taste. That this might be deliberate choice is shown by the moments when she does do it (particularly in the Ravel), she seems to prize the lyric line above the words. But words were very important in 19th century melodies and they were very much sung poems. Without this sense, the strophic songs can outstay their welcome.

Cabell and Terry follow the Bizet with a group of Duparc's best known songs. L'invitation au voyage (Invitation to a journey) is one of Duparc's early songs (from 1868 when he was 20). Ten years younger than Bizet, Duparc's songs are more developed with the voice and piano in a rather more equal balance. Cabell sings the song with poise. She is vibrantly present in the performance, and I have to confess that I would have preferred a more relaxed feel. Chanson triste (Sorrowful song) has a lovely firm line and is again vibrantly done. Whilst Au pays ou se fait la guerre (To the country where war is being waged) is vibrant and emotional, but could perhaps be darker in tone. In all three there is a sense of a superbly vibrant line (with the corresponding compromised diction).

Liszt wrote his settings of Victor Hugo originally in the 1840's when he was travelling as a pianist, but he revised them in the 1850's simplifying the piano parts. Enfant, si j'etais roi (My Child, if I were king) is brightly appealing with a busy piano part which makes you wonder what the original was like!  Oh, quand je dors (Oh While I sleep) is full of vocal beauty and lyric charm with a delicate piano part. S'il est un charmant gazon (If there is a fair meadow) is charming, and highly characterful. Comment, disaient-ils (How then, murmured he) has a filigree piano part which nicely complements the perky vocals, where Cabell brings out the contrasts in mood in the song.

Ravel's song cycle Sheherazade was written in 1903, setting verses from his friend Tristan Klingsor's collection. With Asie we return to the orientalism and Cabell brings out the song's erotic exoticism , but gives the piece urgency too. La flute enchantee (The enchanted flute) is lovely and languid with a nice caress to the vocal line. But there is power too and a strong sense of narrative running through the song. Terry's piano here is delicately translucent. L'indifferent finishes the cycle with slow seductive melancholy.

Ravel's Cing melodies populaire grecques (Five Greek Folksongs) dates from 1904-1906, and sets French translations of Greek folk-verses. The exoticism here more focussed and a little less armchair bound, with a sense of real character. The songs are all quite short, and make a highly characterful set. Chanson de la mariee (Song of the bride) is delightful, full of urgent charm. La-bas, ver l'eglise (Yonder, near the church) has an elegant melancholy to it, with just a seductive hint. Quel galant m'est comparable is fully of delightful swagger, with exotic touches and certainly raises a smile. Chanson de cueilleuse de lentisques  (Song of the girls collecting mastic) has a seriously exotic vocal line which Cabell makes suitably seductive. The cycle finishes with Tout gai!, a short and lively delight.

I enjoyed this recital for the way it displays Cabell's considerable talents in a programme which explores French song with an interesting selection of the known and unknown. The recital has a nice trajectory to it, and Cabell brings out the langour and orientalisme of many of the songs with a nicely seductive feel combined with a lovely sense of line, though you may worry about the diction in some of the songs. Throughout, Cabell is finely supported by Craig Terry, who gets some of the more interesting piano writing in the later songs.

Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875) - Adieux de l'hotesse arabe [4.59]
Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875) - Ouvre ton coeur [2.40]
Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875) - Pastorale [3.41]
Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875) - Chanson d'avril [2.57]
Henri Duparc (1848 - 1933) - L'invitation au voyage [4.26]
Henri Duparc (1848 - 1933) - Chanson triste [3.09]
Henri Duparc (1848 - 1933) - Au pays ou se fait la guerre [5.20]
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) - Enfant, si j'etais roi [3.06]
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) - Oh, quand je dors [5.03]
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) - S'il est un charmant gazon [2.07]
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) - Comment, disaient-ils [1.57]
Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) - Sheherazade [17.51]
Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) - Cinq melodies populaires grecques [8.03]
Nicole Cabell (soprano)
Craig Terry (piano)
Recorded 2-6 January 2013, Allegro Recordings, Burbank, California, USA
DELOS DE3450 1CD [64.50]
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