PERFORMER: Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: UCD 16760
These two French-label discs prompt three assertions: that Felicity Lott is the best female singer of French in the world today; that in her second language she’s a more communicative singer than in any other (including her native language); and that she’s the best sort of mature artist – the kind who refuses to rest on her laurels but goes on growing, expanding her repertoire.
The first disc is the lighter: ‘Felicity Lott amuses herself’, and amuses us, hugely, in her choice of mélodies – chic, risqué, sometimes touching operetta couplets by Offenbach and later French show-composers, a bouquet of salon songs by Bizet, Chabrier, Fauré, Chausson, Messager, Poulenc and others – and in her unfailingly crisp, witty delivery of every one, aided by the no-less stylish Graham Johnson (who in Yvain’s ‘Yes’ also provides the discreet male chorus). This is the sort of number Yvonne Printemps and (nearer our day) Régine Crespin made their own; Lott is in their class.
The second disc (booklet notes and texts in French only) explores a world of song cycles with chamber ensemble that will delight anyone already captivated by Ravel’s exotic Chansons madécasses and his ravishing yet strictly modernist Mallarmé poem settings. Delage was a Ravel disciple, Jaubert a composer of French film scores in the Thirties; in their different ways both manifest a fastidiously precise approach to the musicking of fine poetry that can be termed Ravellian.
Three decades ago Janet Baker recorded Delage’s exquisitely fashioned Four Hindu Poems and the glorious Chausson weepie, ‘Chanson perpétuelle’, that closes Lott’s selection. Baker’s approach is more dreamily rapt, Lott’s cooler and more detached. Both bring their material – ‘minor’, maybe, but beautiful – marvellously to life.