Debussy Songs Vol. 4

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3.5 out of 5 star rating 3.5

LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Debussy Songs Vol. 4
WORKS: Songs, Vol. 4: Nuits blanches; Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons; Beau soir etc
PERFORMER: Lucy Crowe, Jennifer France (soprano), Christopher Maltman (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano), Lucy Wakeford (harp)


Hyperion’s series of Debussy’s complete songs has reached a fourth volume that reminds us that even he had to start somewhere. Many of the settings, of poems by Verlaine, Gautier and Baudelaire, among others, date from the early 1880s when Debussy was 18-22. Fifteen were written for his early inamorata Marie-Blanche Vasnier, and tailored for her high, flexible voice. Perhaps it’s no wonder if the composer’s personality does not always sound fully formed.

British soprano Lucy Crowe seems versatile enough to tackle anything from Baroque to the present day. This is really her album: Jennifer France joins her only for the duet Chanson espagnole. Christopher Maltman performs the two songs of Nuits blanches – a welcome contrast, and especially interesting because these red-hot poems are by Debussy himself.

In many ways Crowe’s bright, pure tone suits the music well: she is extremely precise and can spin out the lightest of silken vocal lines without any extraneous fuss. Her delicacy is admirable, supported throughout by Malcolm Martineau’s sensitivity at the piano, but she could lend the youthful composer more of a hand: overall, the performance seems a tad bland.

Outstanding highlights, though, include the gorgeous Beau Soir and the exquisite Arabesque No. 1 for piano, played by Martineau in a rare solo spot.

Jessica Duchen