Chausson, Debussy & Ravel

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chausson,Debussy & Ravel
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Susan Graham
WORKS: Poeme de l’amour et de la mer
PERFORMER: Susan Graham (soprano); BBC SO/Yan Pascal Tortelier
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 61938-2
In his song sequence, Chausson became the ultimate musical poet of adolescent splendours and miseries. Susan Graham charts the progress from hope to quietly desperate loss with merciless emotional truth and fine sensitivity to nuances of language, darkening her timbre as anticipation turns to dismay, and intensifying at the approaching ‘inexprimable horreur’. If only she had conveyed the initial joy with a few degrees less chastity – this is left to some sumptuous orchestral playing – her long-phrased feel for the idiom and her ability to make detail count would have had even more impact.

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It’s another matter with the grown-up sensuality of Ravel and Debussy. The more intimate the music becomes, the better Graham gets. In ‘Asie’ from Shéhérazade, she moves easily from musing to yearning, each peak ringing out more vividly but the final one surprisingly held back. Régine Crespin’s old Decca recording remains unsurpassed here. But the free sexuality of the rest of Shéhérazade finds her singing with lightly carried, spacious understanding, and in the more explicit Debussy songs she conveys a captivating quiet relish of language and melody.

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When John Adams conducted the premiere of his orchestrations in the Proms they sounded fussy and contrived, but Tortelier achieves with the same orchestra, and in a supportive acoustic, a more idiomatic blend of timbres while still allowing Adams’ passing touches of colour to register. Heard this way, Le Livre de Baudelaire deserves its place with two exalted companion pieces. Robert Maycock