|Natalie Dessay (photo by Simon Fowler)
The most impressive aspects of this New York debut recital were twofold. Firstly, Ms. Dessay's partnership with pianist Philippe Cassard was extraordinarily impressive; the sensitivity of one to the other reminded us of a dance. Secondly, Ms. Dessay yielded to the muse and submerged her outsized personality in service to the music. We know of no better Marie (Donizetti's Fille du Regiment) than Ms. Dessay and we have seen her put her very personal stamp on other roles as well but last night was all about the music. Not only was every word and phrase given its due but her musicality shone forth.
She opened with four songs by Clara Schumann that truly deserve a wider audience. The two settings of texts by Friedrich Rückert were particularly memorable: "Liebst du um Schönheit", famously set by Gustav Mahler, was no less lovely for being unfamiliar to our ears and "Er ist gekommen" swept us along with its intense passion.
Three lovely songs by Johannes Brahms followed and Mr. Cassard's piano made audible the sounds of birds and rustling trees. In the set of Strauss songs, we were particularly take by Ms. Dessay's performance of "Die Nacht" with its mysterious nocturnal imagery and fear of loss. The German was utterly intelligible in every case.
Four French composers were presented and we found Ms. Dessay's finely focused sound to be especially suited to these delicate gems. Henri Duparc and Gabriel Fauré were contemporaries and their chansons are of an ethereal nature; Duparc composed only 16 of these precious pearls whereas Fauré contributed about one hundred to the canon.
We have always loved Duparc's setting of Baudelaire's "L'invitation au voyage" and Ms. Dessay certainly conveyed every nuance while Mr. Cassard's piano expressed the underlying elements of nature. The phrase "luxe, calme, et volupté" still sticks in the mind. In the Fauré group, we were delighted by the familiar "Mandoline".
Debussy came along a bit later but was also entranced by Symbolist poetry. We were introduced to "La romance d'Ariel", a setting of a text by Paul Bourget, as the last chanson on the program and we fell immediately in love with it; Ms. Dessay let loose with silver showers of coloratura that provoked goosebumps.
She did not ignore the 20th c.; Francis Poulenc composed Fiançailles pour rire at the onset of World War II, settings of texts by Louise de Vilmorin. The meanings are often elusive and the accompaniment a bit spare. Although we enjoyed the piano imitating the violin in "Violon", our favorite was the clever play on words of "Il vole"; the reflection of the sun on the shiny surface symbolizes the cheese in the fable "Le corbeau et le renard" with the scissor standing in for the beak of the crow. Ms. Dessay's rapid-fire and sassy delivery offered many delights.
As encores, Ms. Dessay performed Debussy's "Clair de Lune", Rachmaninoff's "How Fair This Spot" and "Tu m'as donné le plus doux rêve" from Leo Délibes' Lakmé. One could not have asked for more!
© meche kroop