PCM1: Alice Coote & Julius Drake – French Song

Banalités – Voyage à Paris
Poème d’un jour, Op.21
Cinq melodies ‘de Venise’ – En sourdine, Op.58/2; Au bord de l’eau, Op.8/1; Les roses d’Ispahan, Op.39/4; Le secret, Op.23/3; Notre amour, Op.23/2
Au printemps
L’énamourée; Fumée; Dans la nuit
Chansons grises – L’heure exquise
Je te veux
Métamorphoses – C’est ainsi que tu es
Banalités – Hôtel
Les chemins de l’amour

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano) & Julius Drake (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 16 July, 2012
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Alice CooteA selection of French songs from Alice Coote began a new season of Proms Chamber Music recitals for 2012, concentrating primarily on centenary composer Debussy. However the British mezzo avoided him, preferring to look at other exponents of the mélodie, akin to opening a box of seventeen chocolates.

Coote began with Poulenc and the brisk one-minute Voyage à Paris, typical of the composer’s skill for cramming a number of thoughts into seemingly throwaway musical statements, before we had time to admire the craftsmanship of Gabriel Fauré at far greater length. Here the musicianship of Julius Drake was significant. He was able to tease out the long, arching melodic lines through meticulous use of the sustaining pedal ensuring rhythmic clarity and scene-setting.

A premise of each song was the elegance of Coote’s melodic line, but there was also a keen sense of longing in Poème d’un jour, while the calm of Adieu and En sourdine shared the serenity ‘In paradisum’ in Fauré’s Requiem. The atmosphere was heady and perfumed, but poised too, singer and pianist never losing sight of the overall design. In Le secret, the unaffected intimacy of Coote’s singing was moving.

Julius DrakeIt was a nice touch to include songs by Gounod and Saint-Saëns, composers whose contribution to the mélodie tends to be underplayed. The performers enjoyed the march-like tempo of the former’s Au printemps, while in the Saint-Saëns the tempo was remarkably slow, Coote starting from quiet and breathy beginnings before moving through an exceptionally well-controlled crescendo to the finish: truly “death in a kiss!”.

The Reynaldo Hahn selection also tended towards the slow, and its central point of expression was the remarkable Fumée, the poet comparing himself with “indolent smoke”. Coote’s immersion in the part was complete, her control as she sang the final line exquisite. Dans la nuit broke the reverie, with Drake’s evocation of the blast of sea-spray uncannily close to the mark.

And so to Erik Satie’s Je te veux, the tempo pulled around in languorous fashion that completely suited the text. There followed a trio of Poulenc songs, predominantly slow again, with restraint once again the means to greater expression. Hôtel again takes smoke as its subject, but this was pure laziness on the part of the poet (Apollinaire) who wanted nothing to do with work – another cigarette was his definition of happiness, and how well Coote conveyed his apathy! Finally Les chemins de l’amour, which was again played around with in tempo, as one might with a string-held puppet, Drake’s accompaniment little more than a murmur in the opening bars.

Bringing the recital full-circle, Coote and Drake ended with the song that began our hour of indulgence, Voyage à Paris now a reckless, off-the-cuff comment after the restraint of the slower settings. Alice Coote wore a striking red and white dress, its contours drawing thoughts of St George despite the content of the recital!

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