Collection: French Songs

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Gounod,Massenet,Saint-Saens
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Songs by Saint-Saëns, Massenet & Gounod
PERFORMER: José van Dam (bass-baritone), Jean-Philippe Collard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54818 2 DDD

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The Belgian bass-baritone José van Dam, a member of the world’s operatic elite on account of his unforced nobility in a host of demanding roles, is less widely familiar as a song-recitalist. This disc of French songs forms the second part of a collaboration with the eminent French pianist Jean-Philippe Collard aimed at rounding out the Van Dam musical portrait. It shows that, in the song medium no less than the operatic, he remains a singer of soberly scrupulous vocal style.

Understatement, and an unfailing ability to bind vocal phrases into shapely, smoothly knit long lines, are the keys to his artistry; the Saint-Saëns songs, most of them relatively little known, some of them interestingly dark in tone, particularly benefit from such strong yet unemphatic handling. But in the Massenet and Gounod groups, which call for greater suavity of utterance, a certain greyness of sound and manner impedes the musical unfolding – is the voice past its peak, or was it simply below form for the EMI recording sessions?

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In addition, intimacy seems badly lacking in the partnership of singer and pianist, though this shortage of quick, sympathetic responsiveness may have been unwittingly underlined by the disappointingly heavy recording. Max Loppert