Songs by Donadel, Glanzberg, Kosma, Macias, Pastel, Vega, Reinhardt, Himmel, Heyral, Brel, et al
Roberto Alagna (tenor), et al
Sony Classical 19439790592 44:18 min
A Sunday in a music studio in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. It’s full of people: technicians, 13 instrumentalists and their supporters, the tenor Roberto Alagna, his wife, two daughters and grandson. And somehow, amid the friendly whirl, they manage in that one day to lay down 15 tracks of popular songs – Jacques Brel, Joseph Kosma, Django Reinhardt and others I’ve never heard of. But if the atmosphere is ‘décontractée’, there’s nothing remotely casual or amateurish about the artistry.
Classical singers in general are wise to approach popular music with caution. It’s a field with its own rules and habits, and it’s easy for those unversed in these to sound unpersuasive or, worse still, dull. Alagna, though, makes light of such things – while his mother initiated him as a boy into opera, popular music was the delight of his father. In short, this is an utterly enchanting disc. Alagna understands the looser rhythms of the style, often with early entries, and of course slides. And (Oh joy!) we can hear every word, many of them not in the eccentric liner notes. Variety comes from different combinations of instrumentalists, including some staggering riffs from clarinet and trumpet in ‘Bohémienne aux grands yeux noirs’, as well as from effortlessly beautiful contributions elsewhere by Alagna’s two daughters. He’d been wanting to record this repertoire for years, only his agent always had an opera in view. If you’re looking for a silver lining to this covidiotic world, look no further. And may it be the first of many!