WORKS: Fêtes galantes, Set 1; Proses lyriques; Nuits blanches
PERFORMER: Christine Schäfer (soprano), Stella Doufexis (mezzo-soprano), Irwin Gage (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 459 682-2
François Le Roux was the finest Pelléas of the past decade, but his once-lustrous, high baryton Martin has darkened (he now sings Golaud), and the compass of his voice contracted so that at its edges and in sustained notes, he can sound uncomfortable, even strained. But despite some roughness of tone, he remains a compelling interpreter of mélodies, vividly communicating the ardent, febrile qualities of their mostly Symbolist texts.
This expansive survey of Debussy’s songs – 28 written over 30 years – has much to recommend it, not least, so it claims, four world-premiere recordings: ‘L’archet’, ‘On entend un chant’ and two songs linked as Nuits blanches.
As far as the latter go, this is a moot point, for Christine Schäfer’s simultaneous issue on DG (in fairness, recorded two months later), contains them too. Schäfer’s account of these feverish, sexual songs is much cooler, more considered, but paradoxically more effective. Her performance, not just of Nuits blanches but of the first series of Fêtes galantes and Proses lyriques, is a perfect combination of beauty and enigma. She also has the advantage of Irwin Gage’s superbly judged accompaniment. The only disappointment is that more than half the disc is devoted to Chausson who, whatever his merits as a composer, was not in the same league. Claire Wrathall