Ravel: Mélodies

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COMPOSERS: Ravel
LABELS: Le Chant du Monde
WORKS: Mélodies
PERFORMER: François Le Roux (baritone), Pascal Rogé (piano), etc
CATALOGUE NO: LDC 2781131
As male champion of French song, François Le Roux follows Poulenc’s collaborator Pierre Bernac and the accompanist Dalton Baldwin. His performances are events, since as well as the knowledge and the technique he has the gift of a superb natural instrument. This Ravel selection is especially welcome for featuring songs that are often scattered around the catalogue.

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Le Roux and the clearly like-minded pianist Pascal Rogé take a distinctive, spacious view of the music – fluent, slowly unfolding rhythms and, in the sensual Mallarmé settings above all, superbly extended phrasing which can float with compelling quietness. Close recording gives the singer a direct, speaking quality as though the ensemble is performing for a handful of friends. Once on to Histoires naturelles and Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, Le Roux consistently locates Ravel’s genius for making the rhythm of the words determine the pattern of the musical line – already evident in some of the Satie-like songs from his early twenties.

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More passionate than deadpan here, the satire of the Histoires works with sly stealth, while for once the drunkenness of Don Quixote shows itself in heavy vibrato rather than ungainly lurches. In Chansons madécasses, the scathing insertion of anti-colonial rage (‘Beware of the whites!’) between two songs of exploitative eroticism – a rare glimpse of Ravel’s opinions – inspires a force and a steady growth of intensity all the more powerful for the prevailing tonal beauty. While Dalton Baldwin’s project remains the definitive Ravel set, Le Roux joins the essential list. Robert Maycock