Thursday 9 July 2015

Populaires - Amel Brahim-Djelloul

Populaires - Amel Brahim-Djelloul - Eloquentia
Reynaldo Hahn, Ottorino Respighi, Henri Collet, Johannes Brahms, Joseph Canteloube, Maurice Ravel, Jesus Guridi; Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Nicolas Jouve; Eloquentia
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 01 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Performances of real charm, and an imaginative programme

With its stylish, almost tongue-in-cheek glamour style photographs and a title like Populaires, an English speaker might expect the new disc from Algerian French soprano Amel Brahim-Djelloul and pianist Nicolas Jouve on Eloquentia to be an exploration of the popular edge of classical music, perhaps even cross-over. Not a bit, instead the title refers to the folk origins of much of the music on the disc. Nicolas Jouve and Amel Brahim-Djelloul have put a together a fascinating exploration of art songs based on folk-texts (and sometimes folk-melodies) with an intriguing mix of well known and lesser known with Reynaldo Hahn's Venezia, Ottorino Respighi's Quattro arie scozzesi, Spanish songs Henri Collet, Johannes Brahms' Volkslieder, Joseph Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne, Maurice Ravel's Melodies populaires grecques and Jesus Guridi's Canciones castellanas.

Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Nicola Jouve - artwork from the album Populaires
Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Nicola Jouve - artwork from Populaires
Amel Brahim-Djelloul has a vibrantly attractive lyric soprano voice and the nearest in style which I came up with was Victoria de los Angeles. Amel Brahim-Djelloul has a vivid timbre, made lively by a lovely (well controlled) vibrato and a constant sense of colour and involvement. She is clearly not phased by languages as, on this disc, she sing in Venetian dialect, Lowland Scots, Spanish, German, Auvergnois and French.

Reynaldo Hahn's Venezia, with their lovely vocalise passages, are full of character and charm  and were reputedly premiered by Hahn himself (a habitue of the city) in a gondola! Here we get three songs, from the set L'avvertimento, La barcheta and Che peca in performances of such vivid delight that you wish we could have heard all of them.

The next group is something of a surprise. Settings of Scottish songs by Ottorini Respighi in the original Lowland Scots (Respighi seems to have been interested in folk matters, the Scots settings from 1925 were preceded by groups of songs from Tuscany and from Armenia). Respighi keeps the original tunes and simply surrounds them with some imaginative piano accompaniment. Here Amel Brahim-Djelloul and Nicholas Jouve manage that awkward junction between naive charm and art song, and Amel Brahim-Djelloul sings in highly creditable English (she wisely does not attempt a Scots accent). These songs have great imagination and I wish we could hear them more often.

Henri Collet was a name that was new to me. He is best known today for the article which coined the term Group des Six for the grouping which included Poulenc and Milhaud. His songs here are settings of Spanish songs from Siete canciones populares d Burgos y Cinco canciones populares castellanas Op.80. He was highly enthusiastic about Spain and settled there. Here we get six short songs, in Spanish, Serenata, Cancion para Ninos, Bolero, Cancion de novia, Epitalamio, and Cancion de Baile which combine Spanish melodies with French 20th century impressionist piano accompaniment in a rather attractive mix. Amel Brahim-Djelloul is beautiful lyrical and characterful by turns, creating a vivid pen-portrait in each little song.

If Johannes Brahms is familiar, his folk-song settings are less so. He set around 50 volkslieder from published collections (which means not all his sources are actually genuine folk-songs), the first major composer to devote himself to folk music. Here we have four songs, Da unten im Tale, Die Trauernde, Dem gang zum Liebchen and Im stiller Nacht in which Brahms lavishes his familiar care on the folk-melodies creating gems which sometimes resemble his piano intermezzos.

With Joseph Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne we are on familiar territory, though Amel Brahim-Djelloul wisely avoids the best known number and here gives lovely performances of La pastoura als camps, Potouro se tu m'aymo, Pastourelle, and Lou Bossu combining musical line with a strong sense of the words. With Nicolas Jouve at the piano, you certainly do not miss the greater amplitude of the orchestral accompaniments, and these make a satisfying grouping indeed.

Maurice Ravel's Melodies populaire grecques all set Greek folk-songs from the island of Chios. They were in fact premiered in Greek, but published in French translation in 1906. Here Amel Brahim-Djelloul sings them in French and brings vivid character and vibrant tone to the various different characters in the songs. Nicolas Jouve partners beautifully with Ravel's imaginative piano accompaniments.

For the final group of songs we return to Spain, this time with songs by Jesus Guridi, the Spanish Basque composer. Though much involved in Basque music, here we have four Castillian songs in attractive lyric romantic arrangements, but still with that very distinct character that Spanish folk songs have. The songs make a lovely conclusion to a fine disc.

I have to confess that I enjoyed this disc from end to end, its combination of charming performances by vividly characterful performers in an imaginative programme. Highly recommended indeed.

Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) - Venezia
Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) - Quattri arie scozzesi
Henri Collet (1885-1951) - Siete canciones populares d Burgos y Cinco canciones populares castellanas Op.80
Johannes Brahms (1833-1887) - Volkslieder
Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957) - Chants d'Auvergne
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) - Melodies populaires grecques
Jesus Guridi (1886-1961) - Canciones castellanas
Amel Brahim-Djelloul soprano
Nicolas Jouve piano
Recorded April 2014, Sall jean Bonnefond, Saint-Genis-les-Ollieres, France
Eloquentia EL 1548 1 CD

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