Debussy Songs Import
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Poèmes de Baudelaire - 3 Mélodies (Verlaine) - Fêtes Galantes - Ballades de François Villon - Nuit d'étoiles - Fleur des blés - Voici que le printemps - Mandoline - Les angélus - Romance - Les cloches / Christopher Maltman, baryton - Malcolm Martineau, piano
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This album is worth purchasing just for the programming prowess that went into including the Verlaine melodies, as well as fine individual items like "Les angelus" and the Fetes Galantes II. Maltman also has included one of Debussy's later cycles, the "Trois Ballades de Francois Villon" from 1910, which I found less attractive. So I strongly recommend you get this CD if you are a fan of Debussy or classical songs.
Maltman has a great, very rich baritone voice and delivers a terrific performance here, across the album. I do have some nits, which is why I rate the release 4 stars. The accompanist, Malcolm Martineau, is a long-time vocal accompanist with an impressive resume, but his work is uneven here. I found the accompaniment to the "Baudelaire Poemes" problematic and underrehearsed, for example. The recording is multi-miked and I thought the sound staging confused, with the piano over mixed. Finally, Maltman at times can experience issues singing outside of his normal range, as in "Colloque sentimentale" from the Fetes Galantes (track 18), where the melodic line falters as the line falls below Maltman's range.
Still, this is a "must-get" for the right kind of listener, due to Maltman's generally very-good interpretation and the unusual, yet very well-judged programming.
Of course there is a great deal more to it than that, but if one doesn't meet this simple and basic rule, all the rest is virtually wasted.
Unfortunately, Christopher Maltman's French is not of a sufficiently high standard to make his rendering of these melodies an unmitigated delight. It's a pity - the voice itself is pleasant, with an attractive timbre like a quite dark oak patina, but le pronunciation is impossible to ignore. I'm bound to say, also, that the interpretation of the pieces seems rather blustery at times, rather than delicate or robust as may be called for. The melodies themselves are so beautiful, and I adore hearing good baritones singing the French song repertoire, which is why I purchased this recording. Malcolm Martineau is a fine accompanist, but he cannot make up for the somewhat unsatisfactory vocal performance.
The basic vocal material is good. This is no doubt why he has impressed in previous recordings, but I am flabbergasted to read that his recording of Schumann's Dichterliebe was considered "superbly executed" (Grammophone) and that he "leaps in a single bound into the fronk rank of Lieder interpreters today". German Lieder require the same sort of detailed word-painting which was so very ABSENT from this recording of Debussy melodies. As Christopher Maltman is so experienced a performer, it's not even a case of my hoping he will develop and mature further as an artist. One presumes that Mr Maltman has already gone through such a process. As a result, I cannot hope that his future performances will show a development in interpretation that will allow him to sweep in finer brush-strokes - I must regretfully say I shall not be tempted by future recordings of this singer.
I cannot unequivocally recommend this CD, unfortunately. I'd have liked to give it 3 and a half stars, but the lack of interpretative quality and the poor French make it impossible for me to give this recording 4 stars... so 3 it must be.
Alternative recommendations: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's exceptionally fine recording of Liszt Lieder; Poulenc Complete Songs (incl. the excellent Gedda and often good Souzay); Debussy melodies sung by Sandrine Piau... Debussy melodies sung by Elly Ameling (occasionally accented French, but what an exquisite sound)... Debussy melodies sung by Christiane Oelze; French chansons and melodies sung by Rachel Yakar who is a consummate interpreter. These are extremely beautiful recordings indeed, and any serious collector of recordings of French melodies needs to own them. For those who just want some beautiful 19th century French vocal music, these alternative recordings mentioned are also very highly recommended.