Natalie Dessay Nuit Detoiles English Translation

Notes and Editorial Reviews



DEBUSSY Claire de Lune. Nuit d’etoiles. Pantomime. Pierrot. Apparition. En Sourdine. Fête galante. Romance. Les Cloches. Rondel chinois. Flots, palmes. Sables. La Romance d’Ariel. Regret. Le Matelot qui tombe à l’eau. Coquetterie posthume. L’Archet. Romance. Les Elfes. La Damoiselle élue • Natalie Dessay (sop); Karine Deshayes (mez); Philippe Cassard (pn); Henri Chalet (cond); Jeune CH de Paris • VIRGIN 7307682 (72:58)


This is a surprise direction for Natalie Dessay to take. Speaking as oneRead more of her most devoted fans, Dessay is a rather inconsistent creature away from the theater. Her extraordinary physicality (and beauty) coupled to that crystalline yet supple coloratura soprano have made her one of the operatic wonders of recent years, injecting some much-needed verve into repertoire that can come across as twittery and air-headed as the performers are usually deemed to be. Yet drag Dessay out of an opera house and she’s a bag of nerves. The coughing fits and botched entries of her concert and oratorio work point to a personality that needs costumes and characters to relax into. It is telling that she trained first as an actress, and unsurprisingly, she is rarely to be found with just a piano for support. Aside from some Fauré songs (on a fine but little-known REM cycle), a rumored Ravel disc (unreleased for contractual reasons), and a bootleg of a rather fine recital from 1996, Dessay has studiously avoided the glare of the chamber hall. Until now.


Although this is very much a studio album, Dessay, as on many of her previous releases, has arranged an international tour in which to plug this fine tribute to Debussy in the 150th anniversary of his birth, with her making her debut (at 46!) in venues like the Wigmore Hall. Having just seen her in Toulouse, doing this recital, with some Chabrier and Duparc for ballast, it was fascinating to see how she turned her inexperience and odd memory lapses into near cabaret, riffing with pianist Philippe Cassard, or admonishing the audience for applauding at the wrong time. Flaws aside, it was a world away from the arch and bland snootiness that many recitalists display in this repertoire.


Still, it is not just Dessay’s show. This is very much a pet project of Cassard’s, and the real coup is the presentation of four unpublished songs Cassard discovered in the archives of an arts patron. The most extraordinary of these is Les Elfes, Debussy’s now longest song, a perfumed, skittish setting of Leconte de Lisle’s Erlking-tinged romantic ballad, but quite frankly they are all gems, with a wonderful salon feel to Romance, and brooding, almost Schubertian turmoil in L'Archet.


Elsewhere in this collection of early songs (focusing on those written for his lover Marie Vasnier, a wife of one of his patrons), we have the familiar setting of Verlaine’s Clair de lune and Théadore de Banville’s Pierrot and Fête Galante. Not all will take to the continuous gleam of Dessay’s sound, but her word expression is beyond reproach, and throughout Cassard is a probing accompanist, not overplaying the jokiness of Pierrot nor smothering the more overtly romantic settings, such as Regret or Nuit d’étoiles. This is Debussy playing of good taste, without ever being dull, and it makes me keen to explore his Debussy cycle, initially made for Accord but now available on Decca.


As an unusual but satisfying ending, we are given an immaculate performance of Debussy’s sensual mini-oratorio La Damoiselle élue, in a chamber version new to me. The choir and mezzo are flawless, and without orchestra to fight against, Dessay takes her fragile sound down to a delectable whisper. In many ways this is the highlight of the disc and supplements the classic orchestral versions with Victoria de los Angeles or, for a similar vulnerability to the singing, Ileana Cotrubas. For the songs, there isn’t that much competition, although many looking for a safer but similarly charming approach might like Gillian Keith’s disc of early Debussy, although after Cassard, Simon Leaper’s playing comes across as jittery and mannered. Odd moments of stridency aside, Dessay’s chief strength here is simplicity.


But as lovely and pristine as Dessay’s studio singing is, I do miss some of her onstage cheek here, and I would also be a poor critic if I said her singing hasn’t changed a bit. It is still a remarkable instrument, soft and pearlescent to the very end of her stratospheric top, but the bottom is getting gritty and her vibrato wider. But who else can sing so unfussily but with lovely diction, and, coupled to Cassard’s fluid, unsickly playing, it doesn’t ram the young, lovestruck Debussy’s perfume and poetry down our throats.


So all in all a very classy album, with very good notes coupled to full texts and translations. Sound is pristine if a little voice-heavy, which is a shame, because despite Dessay’s brilliance, I think Cassard is the true hero here. For us nerdy, uncritical fans, though, this is a terrific change of direction for Dessay, although, with my critic’s hat on, I might also add that other listeners may find her a rather strident, unconventional mélodie interpreter. But this is Debussy away from the musty gloom of the museum cabinet, and along with the obvious draw of the rediscovered songs, it makes it a must buy.


FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
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1.

Rondel chinoisby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: circa 1881; France 

2.

Regret: Devant le cielby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1884; France 

3.

Pierrotby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1881; France 

4.

Pantomimeby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1882; France 

5.

Nuit d'étoilesby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1880; France 

6.

La romance d'Arielby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1884; France 

7.

En sourdineby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1882; France 

8.

Deux romancesby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1891; France 

9.

Coquetterie posthumeby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1883; France 

10.

Clair de luneby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1882; France 

11.

Apparitionby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1884; France 

12.

Romanceby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 

13.

Les Elfesby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1881; France 

14.

Flots, Palmes, Sablesby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Philippe Cassard (Piano), Catherine Michel (Harp)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1882; France 

15.

La damoiselle élueby Claude Debussy
Performer:  Philippe Cassard (Piano), Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Karine Deshayes (Mezzo Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jeune Choeur de Paris
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1887-1888; France 

On the eve of many Performing Arts institutions starting classes for the year, I thought I would write a little something for the people entering into a classical degree. Now if you aren’t someone who is starting a degree in classical voice tomorrow or in the near-distant future, please do not stop reading now! I mainly want to share some of the greatest classical music (in my opinion, of course) ever written for the voice. But I also want to clarify one of the greatest misconceptions in the world of classical vocal music – it’s not all about opera!

There is an interesting phenomenon in young students entering into classical vocal degrees that I’ve experienced, my friends have experienced, and I have seen in countless young singers after me. This is a phenomenon of not knowing what the hell to expect in a classical voice degree. I entered my Bachelor of Music straight out of high school, where I was extremely passionate about classical music but had no idea what I would be singing in the following three years of my degree. I was blindly following the assumption that I would be in very capable hands and that I would be steered in the right direction. Thank god I was right. But the one misconception that I’ve mentioned exists in the mind of young singers and I would like to address that.

Opera often steals the limelight in the world of classical vocal music, and I can see why. Opera as a genre is mammoth – such high demands on vocal technique, the hardest singing in the vocal repertoire, with acting and movement equally important to keep a performance engaging. All of this expected to carry over an orchestra! This brings me to my point though: opera is a genre, and it isn’t the entirety of the vocal repertoire. And simply because of such high demands on technique, young singers entering a vocal degree just aren’t ready to sing these famous opera arias that we all know and love and hear on TV ads. So what do we sing in the meantime? We sing many different genres of classical music, but one genre dominates above all others, and for good reason – Art Song.

What is Art Song? A simple definition is a musical setting of an independent poem or set of poems. Art Song became very popular during the 19th Century as music became more accessible to the lower-middle class in Europe, when pianos became affordable to have in the everyday home. Composers answered the public demand to write music they could all enjoy away from the concert hall in the comfort of their own home. The song tradition only grew stronger throughout the 20th Century and there is such a plethora of fantastic music written for the voice that is performed regularly today.

Art Song is one of my great passions and I just want to take this opportunity to share some of my personal favourites – hopefully you’ll enjoy these as much as I do.

Where would Art Song be without the music of Franz Schubert? The answer to that is nowhere. Schubert was a master of the German Lied (Lied = German for song) and wrote over 600 songs in his short life. Enjoy one of his greatest masterpieces, Der Erlkönig (The Elf King), with an incredible performance by arguably the greatest Lieder singer that has ever lived, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Massive props to the accompanist in this recording as well, the inimitable Gerald Moore. This piano part is considered one of the most ruthless challenges in the entire repertoire – you’ll see why!

NOTE: If you don’t speak German you’ll probably want to read the translation (available on the Wikipedia page http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=6382) to really follow the story.

We move countries now to France, where Charles Gounod was one of the first French composers to have an influential output of French Mélodies (Mélodie = French for song). You’ll find that each of these pieces have different characteristics as we move from country to country, which is what makes Art Song so broad and interesting. Now this next piece isn’t Gounod’s most famous but it is my personal favourite. Gounod himself wrote the poem as well as the music, potentially as a gift in concession to his wife after a rumoured messy affair in London (gasp!), but we will never know. This is L’absent (The Absent One), performed by arguably the greatest Mélodie singer in history Gérard Souzay, with Dalton Baldwin on piano.

NOTE: English translation here http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=6797

Off to Italy now, to another of my favourite composers Francesco Paolo Tosti. Italian Art Song is very different again to German and French but never the less incredibly beautiful and passionate. This next piece is Ideale (Ideal), a song to a lover. This is none other than THE man, Luciano Pavarotti, with American accompanist John Wustman at the piano.

NOTE: English translation here http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=546

Finally, we arrive at English Art Song! There are some truly beautiful English Art Songs out there, and I had extreme trouble trying to pick only one to share (it’s been a struggle to only pick one for each of these!) but I arrived and the one closest to my heart. This is a setting of a Dante Gabriel Rossetti poem, Silent Noon, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This was the first song I ever heard that stopped me in my tracks for 5 minutes and completely transported me to another place. Here it is, performed by one of my very favourites, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, accompanied by David Willison.

NOTE: Poem here http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=13967

So to everyone out there entering into a classical degree, don’t be disappointed that you won’t be singing Nessun Dorma or O Mio Babbino Caro just yet, you have ALL of this incredible music to look forward to. And to everyone that is willing to give classical music a crack, I beg you to have a listen and check out the incredible gems that are available in the Art Song repertoire – classical voice is NOT all about opera (although opera is pretty great too).

Written by Louis Hurley

Further listening for all you keen beans out there:

Franz Schubert – Gretchen am Spinnrade (Barbara Bonney & Geoffrey Parsons)

Robert Schumann – Frauenliebe und -leben (Janet Baket & Graham Johnson)

Gabriel Fauré – Clair de lune (Gérard Souzay & Jacqueline Bonneau)

Claude Debussy – Nuit D’étoiles (Natalie Dessay & Philippe Cassard)

Stefano Donaudy – O Del Mio Amato Ben (Luciano Pavarotti & Leone Magiera)

Gioachino Rossini – La Regata Veneziana (Joyce DiDonato & David Zobel)

Gerald Finzi – Come Away, Death! (Bryn Terfel & Malcolm Martineau)

Benjamin Britten – Sephestia’s Lullaby (Alice Coote & Graham Johnson)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jj-VzjThHI

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