French Song Day

Poème d’un jour
La bonne chanson
L’horizon chimérique
Songs (selection)
Complete Songs
Le bestiaire
Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob
Priez pour paix
Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon
Tel jour telle nuit
La fraîcheur et le feu
La Dame de Monte-Carlo

Kate Royal, Lisa Milne & Claire Booth (sopranos)
Jared Holt & Thomas Oliemans (baritones)
Pavol Breslik (tenor) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 12 June, 2005
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

This day of French song, organised by pianist Malcolm Martineau, and featuring not only six talented young singers but also a series of excellent pre-concert lectures, proved to be an attractive if sometimes unevenly delivered exploration of a rich and subtle art form.

For the first recital, Kate Royal and Jared Holt presented a selection of Fauré’s best-loved songs, including “Lydia”, “Sylvie”, “Le berceaux” and “Le secret”, organised into three groups among which were positioned three cycles: “Poème d’un jour”, “La bonne chanson” and “L’horizon chimérique”. The Duparc songs formed the second recital; they were performed by recent CBE recipient Lisa Milne and tenor Pavol Breslik. The final recital comprised seven sets of songs and three stand-alone works by Francis Poulenc: “Montparnasse”, the beautiful “Priez pour paix” and the frenzied soliloquy “La Dame de Monte-Carlo”. The performers were Claire Booth and Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans.

Royal and Holt were vocally excellent, but tended to be a little over-emphatic in their interpretations – particularly Royal. This and an inability to achieve a convincing ‘French’ style (nothing to do with pronunciation as such but more to do with a placement of the voice that in this case was more Italian than French), which they shared with Milne and Breslik. These two performers did, however, manage to raise the emotional intensity a few notches owing both to bigger techniques and, in many instances, more expansive musical material to work with. Okay to be emphatic here! Booth and Oliemans must, however, take the honours. Although I didn’t believe for a minute that Booth had really abandoned herself to Poulenc’s world in the same way that Martineau obviously had, both she and Oliemans (whose delivery was the most convincingly ‘French’ of the day) were wonderful and just what was needed for Poulenc’s quirky, moving and wholly satisfying songs.

Throughout the day, pianist Malcolm Martineau was, as always, superb, seeing his role as equal to that of the singers; and without drawing undue attention to them, his accompaniments were vigorous, imaginative and full of character.

French song authority Roger Nichols’s pre-recital talks were both informative and engaging, giving some insights not only into the lives of the composers but also their songs through anecdotes, readings and analyses illustrated at the keyboard. Thus the listener was suitably ‘primed’ for the material to follow.

This was a thought-provoking and intensely enjoyable way to spend a Sunday, the music-making intelligent and often sublime, the audience small but attentive and appreciative.

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