Recordings of the French mélodie by native artists have been of variable quality over the last 40 years or so, since the days of Gérard Souzay’s magical interpretations. All the more reason to rejoice when, as here, a singer combines a beautiful voice with intelligence, crisp diction and a real sense of style. This is not surprising, since mezzo-soprano Nora Gubisch comes from the family of Ravel’s close friend, the great Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes, and I would guess she’s lived with this music for a long time.
If her accompanist Alain Altinoglu is not quite in the same class – correct, but at times unimaginative, and curiously reluctant to observe Ravel’s die-away endings – at least he steers clear of the rubato the composer hated so passionately. Also I question the wisdom, in transposing down the Cinq mélodies populaires grecques, of choosing the same key of F major for both numbers three and four, where Ravel is careful to put consecutive songs in different keys. But otherwise this is a disc from which young and even less young singers can learn a great deal, just as Mlle Gubisch has from the 1929 recording of three of the Histoires naturelles by Jane Bathori, who had given the first performance in 1907. ‘Aoua !’, the central song of the Chansons madécasses, is truly terrifying, as it ought to be.