Wednesday 31 December 2014

L'Invitation au Voyage - poetic words and music from Stephanie d'Oustrac

L'Invitation au voyage - Stephanie d'Oustrac
Duparc, de La Presle, Debussy, Boulanger; Stephanie d'Oustrac, Pascal Jourdan; Ambronay
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 23 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Perfect combination of words and music in sympathetic performances.

This new disc on the Ambronay label from mezzo-soprano Stephanie d'Oustrac and pianist Pascal Jourdan explores an interesting selection of French melodies, ranging from the well known to the lesser known with well known melodies by Duparc and Hahn, melodies by the lesser known composers Jacques de la Presle and Lili Boulanger, plus early and late songs by Debussy. The disc was recorded at the Centre culturel de rencontre d'Ambronay.

Stephanie d'Oustrac
Stephanie d'Oustrac
D'Oustrac came to prominence with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, performing 17th century French music with a feel for its characteristic declamation. And something of this care for diction and poetry is conveyed in these songs. The French melodie is very much about the combination of words and music, and even the simplest of songs can develop in complex ways when the poetry is projected with the sort of attention that d'Oustrac gives it. She has quite a rich, romantic voice (she has sung Offenbach and the title role in Carmen) but she combines it with a superb feel for the words, the diction and the poetry, without simply relaxing in a warm vocal bath.

D'Oustrac and Jourdan start with a group of Duparc songs. L'Invitation au voyage (1884) trembles with expressive passion. She is cool but seductive, combining poise and control with superb feel for the words. Soupir (ca 1869) is sung with a supple yet fine line, beautifully long breathed. Chanson triste (1868) is suitably haunting and melancholy. The final song, La vie anterieure (1884) is vibrantly passionate.

Jacques de La Presle (1886 - 1969) was a cousin of Poulenc; he studied at the conservatoire de Versailles with Paul Fauchet whom he succeeded as organist of Notre Dame de Versailles. He won the Prix d Rome in 1921, and became artistic director of Radio Paris. Odelette (1913) moves along, but receives a sympathetic and rather involving performance. Voeu (1912) is delicate and exotic with an evocation of nightingales. Dedette (1913) has a filigree piano part with seductively insouciant vocal line and Nocturne (1912) is quiet, fluid and intense. De La Presle's songs are not as immediately memorable as those of Duparc and not as complex as Debussy's but d'Oustrac and Jourdan make a strong case for his exotic and seductive combination of words and music.

They follow these with two groups of Debussy songs. The first group, the early Cinq Poemes dating from 1887 to 1889, all setting poems by Charles Baudelaire. Le balcon, might date from the same time as the Duparc songs and be far earlier than those of de la Presle, but the song introduces us to a far more complex, chromatic world. There is a complex piano part, passionately exotic and full of chromatic harmony complementing the endless line of fluid vocal line. Harmonie du Soir is richly exotic; Debussy's music changes constantly and d'Oustrac is greatly alert to this. Le Jet d'Eau has a beautiful texture, which d'Oustrac and Jourdan make seductive and hypnotic. Recueillement is quiet, and expressively bleak; showing how d'Oustrac is highly sympathetic to Baudelaire's poetry. La mort des amants has a fascinating yet wandering vocal line which though lyric is highly conversational.

With Poemes (1913) we move to far later in Debussy's career and these songs setting poems by Stephane Mallarme are darker in texture, and full of complex and shifting harmonies. Soupir is full of expressively rich harmony, complementing with highly conversational vocal line. Placet futile develops this into intense drama, receiving a vital performance from d'Oustrac. Eventail pushes the harmony to the edge
Lili Boulanger (1893 - 1918) is lesser known, not because of a conservative style like de la Presle, but because she died young though her music was championed by her sister, the great pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. Clairieres dans le ciel (1906) is a collection of settings of thirteen poems by Francis Jammes and d'Oustrac performs three of them . From the relative dates it will become clear that Boulanger was something of a child prodigy. Si tou ceci n'est qu'un pauvre reve seems to take the complexity of the Debussy and push it further. The song's harmony goes to the limit, yet it is combined with a fine sensibility. Nous nou aimerons tant is powerfully and expressive, almost disturbing at times. In Vous m'avez regarde avec toute votre ame late Debussy is not far away, but Boulanger's own distinctive voice comes through too.

Finally, we return to the better known melodies with a pair of songs by Reynaldo Hahn. La Chere Blessure (1900) concludes with a familiar Hahn climax, but the song reaches there by way of more complex vocals. Finally, A Chloris, which is perfectly done in a performance which is quite slow with a rich and full vocal line.

The beauty of this disc is not so much the particular combination of songs, fine though that is, but d'Oustrac's vibrant performances with her superb feel for the right combination of words and music. Throughout she is  finely supported by Pascal Jourdan. Highly recommended.

Henri Duparc (1848 - 1933) - L'invitation au voyage (1884)
Henri Duparc (1848 - 1933) - Soupir (ca 1896)
Henri Duparc (1848 - 1933) - Chanson triste (1868)
Henri Duparc (1848 - 1933) - La vie anterieure (1864)
Jacques de La Presle (1888 - 1969) - Odelette (1913)
Jacques de La Presle (1888 - 1969) - Voeu (1912)
Jacques de La Presle (1888 - 1969) - Dedette (1913)
Jacques de La Presle (1888 - 1969) - Nocturne (1912)
Claude Debussy (1865 - 1918) - Cinq poemes (1887 - 1889)
Claude Debussy (1865 - 1918) - Poemesi (1913)
Lili Boulanger (1893 - 1918) - Clairieres dans le ciel excerpts (1906)
Reynaldo Hahn (1874 - 1947) - La chere Blessure (1900)
Claude Debussy (1865 - 1918) - A Chloris (1916)
Stephanie d'Oustrac (mezzo-soprano)
Pascal Jourdan (piano)
Recorded at the Espace cuturel, chapel of Jurjurieux, France, 8-10 July 2014

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