Gounod: Biondina; Songs (add?)

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COMPOSERS: Gounod
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Biondina; Songs (add?)
PERFORMER: Felicity Lott (soprano), Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66801/2 DDD
Felicity Lott opens this feast of Gounod with the earliest of his mélodies, the invitation ‘Où voulez-vous aller?’. We are swept off on a wide-ranging discovery of texts by Hugo, Gautier, Lamartine, de Musset and Gounod himself, with Lott and Murray alternately displaying their vocal charms and agility on the first disc. Lott’s well-focused lines are elegantly shaped, from the engaging ‘Chanson de printemps’ and ‘Mignon’ to the poignant lullaby ‘Clos ta paupière’. Murray delivers ravishing performances of the ‘Sérénade’ and ‘Boléro’, sustaining momentum in a remarkably touching way through the nine-stanza story of ‘Au rossignol’.

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On the second disc Gounod’s only song cycle Biondina – written in the early 1780s while he was in London – is sung by Anthony Rolfe Johnson whose high-lying, syrupy tenor revels in Zaffira’s Italian text and Gounod’s melodramatic ballad-style of writing. Rolfe Johnson caresses every musical nuance and turn of phrase, supported by the superb Graham Johnson, whose research notes, with their ample cross-references, are a welcome delight.

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The three singers end by performing Gounod’s settings of English poets – Shelley, Byron, Longfellow and Sir Philip Sidney – with Murray’s ‘My true love hath my heart’ and Rolfe Johnson’s ‘Maid of Athens’ proving particularly memorable. Elise McDougall