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GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2019

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Debussy ‘Harmonie du soir’ L’âme évaporéea. Les Angélusa. Beau soira. La Belle aux bois dormanta. Cinq Poèmes de Charles Baudelairea. Les clochesa. Chansons de Bilitisa. Dans le jardina. Fêtes galantes – Book 1a; Book 2b. Fleurs des blésa. Images oubliéesc. Mandolinea. Nuits d’étoilesa. Paysage sentimentala. Le promenoir des deux amantsb. Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbond. Trois Ballades de François Villonb. Trois Chansons de Franceb. Trois Mélodies de Verlaineb. Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarméb. Voici que le printempsa a Sophie Karthäuser sop bStéphane Degout bar ad Eugene Asti, bcAlain Planès pf Harmonia Mundi F (two discs for the price of one) HMM90 2306/7 (126’ • DDD • T/t)

Harmonia Mundi has decided to mark the centenary of Debussy’s death this year not by issuing a bumper box of everything he ever composed but simply by inviting artists on its roster to record works they wanted to a record. This attempt to ‘exalt the father of modern music’ has led to an eclectic mix of discs – I particularly enjoyed Alexander Melnikov’s second book of Préludes and the≈two-piano transcription of La mer (8/18). This new two-disc addition to the series, under the title ‘Harmonie du soir’, is≈the only one to feature vocal music.

The Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser and French baritone Stéphane Degout share a delicious recital, accompanied by Eugene Asti and Alain Planès respectively. There are songs inspired by two of Debussy’s lovers, Marie Vasnier and Emma Bardac, but this is also a programme which celebrates his love for the poetry of Paul Verlaine, Paul Borget, Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire. Several sets of songs are included, each taken by one singer alone. So of the two sets of Verlaine’s Fêtes galantes, Karthäuser takes the earlier set (in its revised form), including a rapturous ‘En sourdine’, Degout taking the later set, composed in 1904 after he fell head over heels in love with Emma Bardac.

44 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2019

Karthäuser’s dewy soprano is light and fresh and she floats lines in ‘Le tombeau des naïades’ with ease. ‘Beau soir’ is almost sung on a half-breath. Degout is a singer of pure class. He has recorded six of these songs before (a recital on Naïve, 4/11), since when his high baritone has darkened. It’s now a touch more oaken (he said farewell to Pelléas recently and undertook his first Verdi role – Rodrigue – this year in Lyon) but it’s still an elegant, polished instrument. ‘Soupir’, the first of the Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, is gorgeously sung, bathed in autumnal melancholy.

The only significant set of songs missing (but surely not forgotten!) are the Ariettes oubliées, although Alain Planès plays the three Images oubliées in brief piano solos which act as occasional instrumental palate cleansers. Planès – whose terrific Harmonia Mundi set of Debussy’s complete works for solo piano, many on period instruments, is a treasure of my collection – plays exquisitely, both here and when partnering Degout. Asti is no less wonderful, a winning light touch to his guitar-strumming in ‘Mandoline’, while his phrasing in ‘La flûte de Pan’ is especially limpid. Two blissful hours from four winning advocates for Debussy. Mark Pullinger (Aw/18)

Liszt ‘The Complete Songs, Vol 5’ An Edlitam, S333. Comment, disaient‑ils, S276 (first version). Du bist wie eine Blume, S287 (second version). Enfant, si j’étais roi, S283 (first version). Freudvoll und leidvoll, S280 (two versions). Gestorben war ich, S308. Hohe Liebe, S307. Jugendglück, S323. Die Lorelei, S273 (fourth version). Oh! quand je dors, S282 (first version). O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst, S298 (second version). S’il est un charmant gazon, S284 (first version). Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’, S306 (first version). Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S274 (third version) Allan Clayton ten Julius Drake pf Hyperion F CDA68179 (63’ • DDD • T/t)

Julius Drake’s survey of Liszt’s complete songs reaches its fifth volume with a recital by Allan Clayton, carefully tailored to his talents as both lyric tenor and vocal actor. In contrast to its predecessor, structured round the late songs, performed with careful restraint by Sasha Cooke (5/16), this is a disc of high drama and moody introversion, focused predominantly on Liszt’s Weimar years (1848‑61) and the period immediately preceding them. The parameters are effectively established at the outset with two contrasting settings of Goethe’s ‘Freudvoll und leidvoll’, the first (1844) all soulful introspection, the second (1848) mercurial, impulsive and heated. The stylistic range of what follows is strikingly wide, as desire is undercut by irony and grand passions give way to stark reflections on time, age and mortality.

The choice of versions heightens the emotional pitch. In the fourth ‘Lorelei’ from 1860, with its weighty, turbulent piano-writing, Drake unleashes a virtuoso storm as the boat founders on the rocks and≈Clayton’s rapt vocal line fragments into terrified, expressionist parlando. The Victor Hugo settings, meanwhile, come in their original 1842‑44 versions, darker and more flamboyant – albeit less successful – than the more familiar revisions. Clayton sings ‘Enfant, si j’étais roi’ with devilmay-care bravado but Drake can’t disguise the fact that the driven accompaniment, modified in the later version, sits uneasily with the text’s irony. The first ‘Comment disaient-ils’, meanwhile, is something of a bravura showpiece, capped with a cadenzaxthat pushes Clayton almost to his limits.

A willingness to take risks, however, has always been integral to his singing, and the dividends are often enormous. The high tessitura of ‘O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst’ proves taxing, but the resulting pressure in his tone also reminds us that this most familiar of Liszt’s melodies is not so much a declaration of Romantic love as an urgent recommendation of sensuality as a means of warding off intimations of mortality. ‘Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth’ and ‘Ich möchte hingehn’, dramatic monologues in all but name and also haunted by thoughts of loss, decay and death, find him at his best in chilling performances in which sense and sound are fused in an intense expressive gramophone.co.uk

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