All thanks fly to Bob
Composer: Ernest Chausson, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy
Performer: Susan Graham
Orchestra: BBC Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Yan Pascal Tortelier
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 1
Size: 248 MB
01. Poème de l’amour et de la mer : I La fleur des eaux
02. Poème de l’amour et de la mer : II Interlude
03. Poème de l’amour et de la mer : III La mort de l’amour
04. Shéhérazade : I Asie
05. Shéhérazade : II La flûte enchantée
06. Shéhérazade : III L’indifférent
07. 5 Poèmes de Charles Baudelaire : I Le balcon
08. 5 Poèmes de Charles Baudelaire : II Harmonie du soir
09. 5 Poèmes de Charles Baudelaire : III Le jet d’eau
10. 5 Poèmes de Charles Baudelaire : IV Receuillement
graham_poemes_de_l_amour.rar – 255.6 MB
Good disc of lush fin-de-siecle French orchestral songs
A technically-excellent but somewhat bland Susan Graham headlines this 2005 CD of three French orchestral cycles written between 1888 and 1903. Graham is accompanied by the fine French conductor Yan Tortelier and the BBC Symphony, an orchestra that has made many excellent recordings of French music. Recorded sonics are a tad dark but generally very good. I’ll give it 4 1/2 stars, with more explanation below.
Graham places Ernest Chausson’s orchestral cycle “Poeme de l’amour et de la mer”, a post-Wagnerian score dating from the early 1890s first on the program. The Poeme consists of two extremely difficult and long songs divided by a shorter orchestral interlude. Graham is a superb technician and handles the vocal part with more ease than any other singer I have heard. This is a beautiful cycle, although I find it difficult to take in. If you like Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs”, you may very well love this piece, which also deals with themes of memory and loss. The Poeme in my opinion has not yet received a truly great performance, but Graham has some earlier rivals including a very good Janet Baker/Andre Previn effort and a musical Waltraut Meier/Ricardo Muti effort, as well as a less satisfactory Jessye Norman disc from the 1980s. Graham’s is less musical than Baker or Meier here but Tortelier’s conducting and the recorded sonics have an edge over these earlier recordings. Your pick. Certainly a respectable, very listenable interpretation from Graham.
Next up is what I think is one of the best compositions for voice and orchestra ever, Maurice Ravel’s 1903 “Sheherazade,” a self-consciously Wagerian work, written when Ravel was all of 27. One of the attributes of terrific music is that it evokes inspired renditions by performers. “Sheherazade” has accordingly been blessed by several brilliant – and very different – performances, from Janet Baker’s propulsive version done with Thomas Barbirolli, to Regine Crespin’s more measured but vocally resplendent early 1960s performance, to a moving and at the same time precise recording by Heather Harper and Pierre Boulez, to a slow, sensual Arleen Auger in a sonically-challenged Virgin release. All of these are different and all are examples of great performances. Susan Graham delivers a performance that is not up to this competition, but it still pretty good. Graham doesn’t bring the emotional power of Janet Baker or Auger or the personality of Crespin. She is as always technically excellent throughout another challenging score.
The final piece is an orchestration of 4 of the 5 Baudelaire songs by Claude Debussy, again, an early effort completed in 1889, again when the author was 27. This is a set of songs that has really grown on me recently. It is difficult to follow, hard to categorize (it straddles Wagnerian late romanticism, French symbolism and Debussy’s future impressionist style) and is hard to hold together in a musically coherent way. The performance here is OK. The famous American composer John Adams, of “Nixon in China” fame, was commissioned to orchestrate the work and I don’t think it’s a completely successful effort. While Adams tries to throw in some Debussyan touches here and there, a lot of it sounds like a mixture of Richard Strauss and John Adams’ personal style when he inclines towards late romanticism, so the music and orchestration don’t strike me as completely consistent. Two impressive performances of all 5 songs in the original version accompanied by just piano are a great Sony disc by Dawn Upshaw (“Forgotten Songs”) and a BMG disc by the French alto Nathalie Stutzmann, which I recommend as alternatives.
This is a pretty good recording, displaying Graham’s impressive technique and beautiful voice, but isn’t up to her best work.