Debussy: Early Songs

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LABELS: Deux-Elles
WORKS: Early Songs
PERFORMER: Gillian Keith (soprano)Simon Lepper (piano)
Gillian Keith and Simon Lepper are not quite as young as Debussy was when he wrote ‘Nuit d’étoiles’ as a teenage piano accompanist in the first flush of love for a soprano nearly twice his age. But the youthfulness of this new and burgeoning recital partnership certainly makes for a happy encounter with some of Debussy’s earliest songs.


Keith’s can be a real bright-eyed gamine of a soprano and, aided by Lepper’s nimble, impish fingers, hers is an irresistible and knowing take on both ‘Pantomime’ and ‘Mandoline’ from the Verlaine Fêtes galantes. That sense of an emotionally fragile intimation of mortality which shadowed her ‘Souhait’ from the very early de Banville settings can also be detected, to eloquent effect, in the Paul Bourget songs. Though, within the admirably clear and sustained lines of melancholy in the ‘Romance’ (‘L’âme evaporée’), the voice could perhaps allow itself to bloom just a little more.


There are times, too, when Lepper’s ever astute and sensitive accompanying remains in rather tight bud. With playing as accomplished as this, he could afford to take as many risks as Debussy dared, playing with just a little more attitude, and further into the foreground of these nonetheless delightfully refreshing paysages sentimentales. Hilary Finch