PERFORMER: Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano)Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66976
This delectable anthology is a must for anyone interested in song or the music of this still underrated composer. Bizet’s songs were written before the French began to take their mélodies seriously, a state of affairs which Fauré put right, yet there are several songs here which point the way towards the younger composer. Others suggest pre-echoes of Bizet’s better-known operatic music, and all contain beguilingly fresh tunes. As the inventive accompaniments – played by Graham Johnson with sensitivity – show, it was Bizet who really began to elevate the French art song.
Ann Murray’s versatility is again confirmed here, in the rich variety of the 20 songs presented chronologically. Nothing of the strain she has shown recently on the operatic stage is felt, and though the voice hardens occasionally she is always stylish. Her bright mezzo copes easily with the coloratura displays as she ventures into soprano territory in showpieces like ‘Le grillon’. The sultry ‘Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe’ is seductively done, and its picture of ‘forbidden’ passion calls Carmen to mind. Uninhibited love is also evoked in ‘Guitare’, but there are numbers in an ‘antique’ style, such as ‘Vieille chanson’, to remind us of Bizet’s rich diversity. John Allison