Debussy: Songs, Vol. 3

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COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Debussy: Songs, Vol. 3
WORKS: Le promenoir des deux amants; La romance d’Ariel; Les elfes; Regret; Musique; Chanson triste; Les baisers d’amour; Aimons-nous et dormons; Souhait; Rêverie; La belle au bois dormant; Il dort encore etc
PERFORMER: Jennifer France (soprano), Jonathan McGovern (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

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Volume 3 of Malcolm Martineau’s Debussy Songs series maintains the high standards of previous issues. As with Volume 2, it showcases two rising young talents, here brightly voiced soprano Jennifer France and the warm baritone of Jonathan McGovern, both of them Kathleen Ferrier Award winners. France takes the bulk of the workload, appropriately in a collection dominated by early songs of which many were written for soprano Marie Blanche Vasnier. These showcase not only France’s affecting intensity, as in Regret, but also her agility in stratospheric regions. The ease with which she suddenly soars in La romance d’Ariel is utterly sublime, while the periodic gymnastics of Les elfes are similarly effortless.

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The last of these is one of four songs, probably from 1882, first published in Debussy’s 150th anniversary in 2012. Not always entirely idiomatic, they are nonetheless fascinating. The two sung by McGovern, Chanson triste and Les baisers d’amour  are particularly captivating, even if the climaxes of the latter induce an uncharacteristic hint of strain in his otherwise lively and engaging voice. His quiet stillness in the opening song of Le promenoir des deux amants, the only cycle on the disc, is spine-tingling, while Martineau’s colour and touch are, as ever, the perfect foil for both singers. Christopher Dingle