Natalie Dessay: "Entre Elle et Lui"
Music of Michel Legrand. With Petibon; Naouri; Legrand. Erato/Warner Classics 934148
This album from Natalie Dessay is the result of a recital created and directed in 2008 by her longtime colleague, Laurent Pelly, for his first season as joint head of the Théâtre National de Toulouse-Midi- Pyrénées. Backed by a twenty-two-piece orchestra, Dessay sang an all-Legrand program. The logical next step was a tour and a CD with trio, the composer himself at the piano.
Unlike other sopranos, who seem to be either slumming or winking at us that "this isn't my real voice," Dessay enters into the world of each song as earnestly as she does an aria or art song. Dessay has a beautiful lower range and commands the conversational diction that this text-driven genre needs. However, she runs into the same technical issues that many legit sopranos find when they sing pop or theater songs — "the Bermuda tritone" (as a conductor friend coined it) in the middle of the voice, where she just can't quite ground the sound. The tone is a little white, a little blowsy, a bit pitchy, and the vibrato slows down. Because of the smaller size and the fine grain of her voice, close miking doesn't seem to be a problem for Dessay. And unlike the case of many current pop albums, her voice is very forward in the mix here (not tucked in with the band), which enables us to catch every mot. This is aided by the beautifully transparent playing of Pierre Boussaguet on bass and François Laizeau on drums.
Unfortunately for those of us who stopped our French-language education in high school, there are no translations included in the thirty-eight-page CD booklet. Otherwise, I might have known that the first track, "Chanson de Delphine," is "You Must Remember Spring" in English; or, for that matter, "Duo de Guy et Genevieve" is "I Will Wait for You." "Les Moulins de Mon Coeur" was easier: in English, the windmills are of your mind, not my heart. Only three selections are in English — "Papa, Can You Hear Me?", "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" and "The Summer Knows."
Actually, the CD is a good listen; although Legrand is a master of the love-ballad, he also has written some amazingly catchy up-tunes. And he is an extraordinarily adept jazz pianist who displays excellent accompanying chops. From time to time he dares to leave Dessay in the clear, popping back in with a well-timed chord here or there and erupting into dizzyingly fast scales. Legrand the singer duets with the soprano on "Les Moulins de Mon Coeur"; Dessay also sings with coloratura Patricia Petibon and (most successfully) her husband, baritone Laurent Naouri. He sounds particularly at ease in "I Will Wait for You"; she can't quite come up with the requisite bite in this part of her voice, where a pop singer would move into more of a belt-mix coordination.
While Dessay won't replace Streisand in your CD collection just yet, perhaps there's a Charles Trenet tribute album, or a Jacques Brel compilation on the way? Dessay could do a very interesting Broadway album en français. She is a canny artist with great ears and beaucoup de moxie.
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