Debussy: Fêtes galantes (Book I); Poulenc: Banalités; Métamorphoses – ‘C’est ainsi que tu es’; Previn: Three Dickinson Songs; R Schumann: ‘Mignon’; ‘Dein Angesicht’; ‘Die Lotosblume’; Wolf: Eichendorff-Lieder – ‘Verschwiegene Liebe’; Mörike-Lieder – ‘Das verlassene Mägdlein’; ‘Lied vom Winde’; ‘Nixe Binsefuss’; plus songs by Baksa (‘Heart! We will forget him’), Barber (‘Despite and Still’), Gurney (‘Sleep’), and Loewe (‘Ach neige, du Schmerzenreiche’)
Sandrine Piau (soprano), Susan Manoff (piano)
Alpha Classics ALPHA397 58:27 mins
The persistent ‘Baroque specialist’ label hardly sums up this distinguished French soprano. With her distinctively radiant, secure tone and cut-crystal upper range, her repertoire has always been much wider, not least in her Lieder recordings. This latest is somewhat over-packaged, a miniature coffee-table book padded out with medieval images, poems, Joni Mitchell quotes and so on to justify the chimerical title; but it conceals a decidedly special recital.
Piau credits Susan Manoff, a strong supporting presence throughout, with introducing her to the Anglo-Saxon repertoire (although she has always loved Britten) and the programme includes, as well as Debussy, Poulenc and Wolf, Samuel Barber’s enigmatic Joyce setting, and Emily Dickinson poems set by Robert Baksa and André Previn, as well as Ivor Gurney’s beautifully Jacobean ‘Sleep’. Piau delivers them with elegant, unforced expressiveness and, as in German, barely subliminal French intonation. In the opening Loewe and Schumann, both young girls’ songs, she evidently aims for youthful simplicity rather than sophistication, but captures Wolf’s more mercurial ardour beautifully, even the mini-Valkyrie turbulence of ‘Lied vom Winde’. Nevertheless, the French songs, the Debussy especially, take on that extra degree of nuance and colour. Altogether a fine, fascinating recital which leaves one wanting more.
Mike Scott Rohan