Chère Nuit – French Songs
Ravel: Shéhérazade; plus songs by Canteloube, Debussy, Messiaen, Viardot-García, etc
Louise Alder (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20222 80:10 mins
Since winning the audience prize at the 2017 Cardiff Singer of the World, Louise Alder has been in constant demand throughout Europe, in opera houses, concert halls and recording studios. It may therefore seem presumptuous of a mere hack to entertain worries on her behalf, but this disc of French songs throws up two aspects that I feel do need attention.
Firstly, the voice itself. As with many sopranos these days, there seems to be a difficulty in managing loud singing above the treble stave. Based entirely on my 50-year acquaintance with French singers of the old school (I am not a singing teacher), I find they do not usually have problems in this area: the radiance and purity of their soft singing remain unaffected in the loud. Secondly, the peculiar demands of the French mélodie, driven as it is by words. Here I often struggled to hear them because consonants are not crisp enough; also the colouring is too uniform – we need more light and shade, mirroring the emotions of the moment.
As for the piano version of Ravel’s Shéhérazade, I wonder whether this was intended merely for rehearsals before a performance with orchestra: fine pianist though he is, Joseph Middleton struggles with the tremolos and complex textures in ‘Asie’, which overall is far too loud. For me, the lighter popular songs that conclude the disc, with Alder floating exquisitely soft high notes, take the prize.
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