Fauré, Debussy & Poulenc
This selection of mostly better-known examples of the mélodie includes a number of classics of the repertoire that have been recorded by French and non-French singers over decades. Language and its use are all-important in these text-based songs, so it is all the more disappointing that Véronique Gens’s diction is comparatively weak, with both vowels and consonants inadequately articulated. Both as meaning and as musical sound the words are dully conveyed. Admirable as her contributions to a number of recordings of Baroque music in particular have been, here Gens fails to supply the range of vocal colour and dynamics these hyper-subtle settings demand, and of sensuousness and emotional warmth there is too little.
Among the more successful items, however, are the Chansons de Bilitis, in which the singer’s undoubted musicianship is more consistently combined with attention to the texts, though the heady, erotic quality of these pieces is minimal when compared to (the Spanish!) Victoria de los Angeles, or even to the overly mature but still magical (and Scottish!) Maggie Teyte on a historic Thirties recording. The Poulenc sequence also lacks colour and sophistication. Gens’s balance between texts and notes has its finest moment in the angry ‘Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maison’, Debussy’s outraged reaction to Germany’s attack on France in World War I. Too often elsewhere she sounds clinically disengaged, and Roger Vignoles’s cool, placid accompaniments are little help.