Duparc • Fauré

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COMPOSERS: Duparc • Faure
LABELS: Nimbus
ALBUM TITLE: Duparc • Faure
WORKS: Mélodies; La bonne chanson; Mirages; L’horizon chimérique
PERFORMER: Hugues Cuénod (tenor), Martin Insepp, Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5736-7

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Given that the Swiss tenor made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1987 at the age of 85, these 1970s recordings almost count as middle-period Cuénod. By this time that unmistakable light, reedy voice (Cuénod used to joke that he had no voice at all) could be tinder-dry, and tremulous under pressure. Climaxes are often strained and bleaty. And even Cuénod’s famed precision and elegance of style cannot compensate for his lack of colour and sensuous warmth in Fauré’s La bonne chanson (the tenderness is there, but the joy is apt to seem frantic rather than ecstatic) or Duparc’s ‘L’invitation au voyage’, where Cuénod can evoke the promise of ‘calme’, but not the ‘luxe’ or ‘volupté’. If you accept Cuénod’s vocal limitations, though, there is much to enjoy and ponder here. His unaffected directness, absence of sentimentality (as in his bracing, incisive performance of Fauré’s L’horizon chimérique) and immaculate clarity of diction recall his baritone contemporaries Pierre Bernac and Charles Panzéra. As the booklet rightly notes, Cuénod ‘speaks the text like an actor’ while retaining a finely drawn line – virtually a lost art in the singing of mélodies. Beyond that, he can create a haunting atmosphere, with the greyness of tone enhancing, say, the bleakness and anguish of Fauré’s ‘Prison’ or the contained sorrow of Duparc’s ‘Elégie’. Both pianists are sensitive stylists, though the typically reverberant Nimbus acoustic does them no favours, especially in the Fauré songs.

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Richard Wigmore