L’arada; Chants de France
Karen Coker Merritt (soprano), Sean Kennard (piano)
Centaur CRC 3804 62:06 mins
In 1933 Joseph Canteloube’s Vercingétorix left the Paris Opera stage after only nine performances, charged with being ‘untheatrical’, despite the revolutionary plot and the name role being sung by the great tenor Georges Thill. The plain truth is that he was not so much a composer as a fine orchestral arranger, his best-known work being his delightful Chants d’Auvergne. His own collection of songs L’arada which begins this disc suffers both from a lack of any memorable melodies and from a thick piano texture which soprano Karen Coker Merritt, in her liner notes, rightly describes as resembling the reduction of an orchestral score.
Altogether happier are the two sets of Chants de France, though even here the piano part, superbly played by Sean Kennard, is again unrelentingly dense and complex, so that the singer’s lower octave is at times drowned. Coker Merritt is a Canteloube scholar as well as a singer, and gives an honest account of these songs, with clear diction, impeccable intonation and a vibrato that is, by modern standards, moderate. What I miss though is a variety of colour to match the various moods and subjects. Her voice is well-focused but slim, so that we never hear the contrasts between honey and vinegar that distinguish such recordings as that of Chants d’Auvergne by Madeleine Grey, who was the first to perform them.