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LABELS: Deux-Elles
WORKS: Songs for his muse: Ariettes oubliées; Fleur des blés; Beau soir; Jane; Caprice; Rondel Chinois; Les papillons; L’archet; Flots, palmes, sables; Le matelot qui tombe á l’eau; Les elfes; Séguidille, etc
PERFORMER: Gillian Keith (soprano), Simon Lepper (piano), Cecilia Maria de Sultana (harp)


Gillian Keith is a lyric soprano and actress of considerable gifts. But the mélodie is not opera, at least not in Debussy’s case. It asks for nuances rather than broader effects, as evident from the meticulous markings (not all observed here) in the Ariettes oubliées of 1888 /1903 that end this recital.

More problematic still are the songs of the early 1880s which never reached publication, so they lack the markings which Debussy doubtless observed in practice. For me, too many of these early songs are allowed to drift: surely we need some nuances of despair on ‘hélas!’ and the unaccompanied ‘elle mourut’? As for the ‘muse’ of the title, Marie-Blanche Vasnier, only seven of the 20 songs here were in fact dedicated to her.

Overall, these songs, while often charming and inventive (like Séguidille, recorded here for the first time), never really communicate the young Debussy’s passion, and heard altogether the lack of depth and variety in all these early mélodies becomes rather wearing. For me, the Ariettes came as a huge relief. Finally, the tone of Keith’s louder notes above the stave should be cause for some disquiet.


Roger Nichols