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Black is the Colour: works by Berio, Ravel and Falla

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Black is the Colour
Berio: Folk Songs; Ravel: Introduction et Allegro; Histoires naturelles (arr. Lavandier); Falla: Psyche
Anna Stéphany (mezzo-soprano); Labryrinth Ensemble
Alpha Classics ALPHA 384

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Black is only one of the myriad colours on this inventive and absorbing collection.

Marking the recording debut of the Labyrinth Ensemble, and showcasing the beguiling talents of Anglo-French mezzo- soprano Anna Stéphany, the performances exquisitely capture the shifting nuances and moods of a programme with a French bias, yet decidedly international in spirit. Berio’s Folk Songs span multiple cultures, languages and shades of emotion, and are especially effective in this chamber version. There is no doubt here that Stéphany’s is a highly trained voice, but not obtrusively so, except that it is thrown into relief by her deliberately nasal characterisation in ‘A la femminisca’. This exaggerates a tradition begun by the work’s dedicatee, Cathy Berberian, yet it is more suggestive of an old crone than a young woman awaiting her sweetheart’s return from sea.

The Folk Songs are balanced by Falla’s rarely heard Psyche and Ravel’s Histoires naturelles. It is high praise indeed to say that Arthur Lavandier’s arrangement of the latter is commendably idiomatic of Ravel’s instrumental colours. Stéphany is utterly entrancing, savouring each syllable so that her characterisation of each song builds wonderfully from the text. The Labyrinth Ensemble proves an ideal partner throughout with its wide range of timbres and natural pacing, the interlude of Ravel’s Introduction et Allegro being among the finest on disc.

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Christopher Dingle