Debussy • Fauré

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy; Faure
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Debussy • Fauré
WORKS: Fêtes galantes, Set 1; La bonne chanson; mélodies
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge (tenor), Julius Drake (piano), Leon Bosch (bass); Belcea Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 557 6092

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The style of French mélodie can be very difficult for non-Francophone singers to master. Quite apart from problems of pronunciation, there is a balance to be sought in the relationship between notes and words that comes far more easily to a native linguist. Much of Ian Bostridge’s French is admirably clear and carefully articulated, but some of his vowel sounds are suspect and the weight of voice used doesn’t always match means to ends. In particular, he too often resorts to a whispering where a proper but fined-down tone is really needed. There’s also a limitation in his range of tone colours that inhibits expressive possibilities. Fauré’s ‘Clair de lune’ is monotonous, surprisingly, from both performers, since Julius Drake here offers a very prosaic accompaniment. Elsewhere his mastery of delicate nuances of colour and dynamic levels provides one of the most appealing features of the disc. Even finer are the accompaniments to Fauré’s La bonne chanson in its rare edition for piano and string quintet, with the Belcea players (plus Drake and Leon Bosch) registering as fluid and sensitive, and finely captured by the sound engineers. Bostridge is at his best here, too, but some of the Poulenc settings also go well for him, and he is musically scrupulous throughout. Elsewhere awkwardness creeps in, and there’s a fatal lack of vocal warmth and variety. Too many songs have an identical manner of delivery, whereas each needs to be a unique expression.

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George Hall