Arias & songs by Messager, Debussy, Delibes, Delage, Stravinsky, Thomas, Berlioz & Koechlin
Sabine Devieilhe, Jodie Devos (soprano), Marianne Crebassa (mezzo-soprano), Alexandre Tharaud (piano); Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth
Warner Classics 9029576772
The concept of cultural appropriation was mercifully unknown to the composers of 19th-century France. We can therefore sit back and enjoy their daydreams in Mirages, compiled around visions of faraway or imaginary lands and people, dominated by Oriental exoticism. Sabine Devieilhe’s voice is shown off to stunning effect as she and her colleagues bring together the (sometimes) kitschier side of eastern longings and the lingering influence of such sounds on more intriguing music.
For the former strand there’s Messager and Delage, Massenet and Delibes: despite moments of sugary pastiche, some of the music has an exquisite gorgeousness, such as the Lakmé‘ Duo des fleurs’; and Delage’s Quatre poèmes Hindous spin out long, dazzling melismas, which Devieilhe delivers with the pure cut of a shining vocal scimitar. The short but telling extract from Debussy’s Pelléas – ‘Mes longs cheveux déscendent’ – proves in two minutes that perceived eastern sensuality reached the heart of Symbolist France and its lasting influence; Koechlin’s mysterious Voyage and Stravinsky’s ever-imaginative Nightingale bear this out. Meanwhile the deranged Ophelia’s flights of fantasy are envisaged with heartbreaking beauty by Berlioz, but with dubious oom-cha fun by Thomas (where’s Brett Dean when you need him?).
Devieilhe’s singing lights up the good, the bad and the music of Ambroise Thomas (to misquote Saint-Saëns) with her vivid, pure tone and apparently limitless breath. Alexandre Tharaud pops in as a sensitive piano partner; Les Siècles and François-Xavier Roth offer idiomatic, dusky, gut-lined softness and clarity in the orchestral numbers.