Debussy: Recuell Vasnler; Ariettes oubliees; Cinq poemes de Baudelaire

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WORKS: Recuell Vasnler; Ariettes oubliees; Cinq poemes de Baudelaire
PERFORMER: Dawn Upshaw (soprano)James Levine (piano)
The Ariettes oubliees (Forgotten Songs, 1885-7) find Debussy flexing the muscle of a new style of writing, sensing, vowel by vowel, the scent and sound of each word as it moves through melody. Poetry was of supreme inspirational importance to Debussy as composer, as it is to Dawn Upshaw as performer; and she savours every murmur, every whispering in Paul Verlaine’s pale landscapes of undefined yearning, as well as recreating the bright, fleet splashes of watercolour in the ‘Aquarelles’.


Debussy’s subtler, more personal style in these songs is thrown into relief by their being preceded in this thoughtfully shaped recital by the earlier Vasnier Songbook and followed by the late, languid Baudelaire settings.

Madame Vasnier was the singer whom Debussy accompanied as a student, and with whom he was to become infatuated. The agile coloratura soprano which inspired the songs is reincarnated delightfully in Upshaw’s voice as she wings her way through the Watteau-inspired harlequinade of the Fetes galantes, and on to the melancholy Paul Bourget settings.


This recording is the first to present these songs in Debussy’s original order: with James Levine’s wonderfully imaginative and sentient piano playing, the cumulative experience is revelatory. The recital ends with the Cinq poemes de Baudelaire. In these heavily scented late flowerings, Levine’s fingers sink into a world of evocations, mirrorings and Tristanesque kaisers infinis, as sound, perfume and movement merge into one, and new undertones and nuances of dynamic and timbre are uncovered in Upshaw’s deeply perceptive performances.