COMPOSERS: Lili Boulanger,Rachmaninoff,Strauss
WORKS: Ständchen; Morgen; Amor; Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden,
PERFORMER: Heidi Grant Murphy (soprano), Kevin Murphy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Z 6754
Nadia Boulanger felt that her younger sister Lili, who died from TB at the age of 24, identified with the beloved heroine of a cycle of poems called Clairières dans le ciel (Clearings in the Sky) which she was given in 1913. She chose 13 verses by the Symbolist poet Francis Jammes to create a song cycle which, at 40 minutes, is Lili Boulanger’s longest extant work.
The piece was originally conceived for tenor, and Martyn Hill has made an eloquent recording of it. But the American soprano Heidi Grant Murphy brings something quite special to its elusive sensibility. Her idiomatic French is as supple in its elision and phrasing as is Boulanger’s own response to Jammes’s ever-shifting prosody. And her high, silvery soprano captures that all-pervasive sense of transience, whether it be in a passing scent in sound, or in a response to the composer’s economic use of harmony to touch and tint a single word. The soprano’s husband, Kevin Murphy, responds no less perceptively to the minute variety of Boulanger’s writing for piano.
Symbolist poetry, and the turning of the century, remain the point of focus for the rest of this recital. Rachmaninoff’s Op. 38, with its fervent ‘Willow Song’ and hypnotic ‘Pied Piper’, draws equally sympathetic performances. And the coloratura brilliance of Grant Murphy’s soprano, a real silver rose of a Strauss sound, thrillingly recreates the stardust of ‘Ständchen’, and the flickering flames of ‘Amor’. Hilary Finch