BBC Music Magazine - - Choral & Song -

Nuit d’etoiles; Trois Mélodies de Ver­laine; Fêtes galantes Books I & II; Images ou­bliées; Trois chan­sons de Bili­tis; Trois chan­sons de France, etc Sophie Karthäuser (so­prano), Stéphane De­gout (bari­tone), Eu­gene Asti, Alain Planès (pi­ano) Har­mo­nia Mundi HMM 902306-07 125:51 mins (2 discs)

This sub­stan­tial se­lec­tion from De­bussy’s songs cov­ers vir­tu­ally the en­tire pe­riod of his in­volve­ment with the genre, from the Théodore de Banville set­ting Nuits d’étoiles of 1880 through to the Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mal­larmé of 1913. In­ter­spers­ing the songs are rare pi­ano pieces: the three Images (ou­bliées) of 1894-96, un­pub­lished un­til 1977, and the even smaller Les soirs il­lu­minés par l’ardeur de char­bon, writ­ten in 1917 for a help­ful coal mer­chant but not pub­lished un­til 2004. There are two singers and two pi­anists in­volved: Bel­gian so­prano Sophie Karthäuser is ac­com­pa­nied by Eu­gene Asti while French bari­tone Stéphane De­gout is teamed with Alain Planès.

In terms of the pi­anists, there’s lit­tle to choose be­tween two such ex­pert, sen­si­tive play­ers, each in full technical and ex­pres­sive com­mand of their ma­te­rial. Planès tack­les the Images (ou­bliées) while Asti is granted the coal mer­chant’s re­ward, and both con­vey the rich­ness and sub­tlety of De­bussy’s mul­ti­far­i­ous ac­com­pa­ni­ments. Karthäuser and De­gout are well matched, too, though he is the more dili­gent of the two in ex­plor­ing the niceties of the French texts and in ex­tract­ing the last ounce of their (some­times am­bigu­ous) mean­ing(s). She ex­cels in the lighter, ear­lier songs in which De­bussy is de­vel­op­ing his own style while con­tin­u­ing to re­flect those of com­posers of an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion, such as Fauré and Massenet; De­gout has the ideal weight, colour and poise to ex­plore the later, broader can­vases of set­tings of Mal­larmé, François Vil­lon, Charles d’or­léans and Tris­tan l’her­mite. Ge­orge Hall PER­FOR­MANCE RECORD­ING

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