Debussy: Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire; Trois mélodies; Fêtes galantes (Series 2); Trois ballades de François Villon

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COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire; Trois mélodies; Fêtes galantes (Series 2); Trois ballades de François Villon
PERFORMER: Christopher Maltman (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67357
Look in the catalogue to see how many British male singers have recorded Debussy songs, and you can count them, well, with the tip of your little finger. Debussy’s minute sensitivity to the poetry he set, particularly that of Verlaine, makes them a formidable musical-linguistic challenge for the non-Gallic singer; and the spectres of Bernac and Souzay – let alone Fischer-Dieskau – seem to be a daunting presence.

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So Christopher Maltman enters in where angels fear to tread. There are times when the beat of vibrato at the top of his voice prevents the finest nuancing of the most elusive phrase endings. Times, too, when one is just slightly over-aware of the expressive effort he is making: in the Trois ballades de François Villon, every word’s worth is weighed along the line.

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But this is an admirable recital, not least because of Maltman’s partnership with Malcolm Martineau. In the Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire, Maltman’s ability to carry and tint vowels along a supple line of breath celebrates these songs of air, space and infinity, while Martineau’s fingers are minutely tuned to the movement and colour as ‘Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir’. I particularly enjoyed their Fêtes galantes, alive with elusive spectral evocations, and Maltman’s real sense of attitude in ‘Les ingénus’. Hilary Finch