OPERA NEWS - Philippe Jaroussky: "Green"
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Philippe Jaroussky: "Green"

CD Button Songs by Debussy, Fauré, Hahn, Brassens, Ferré, Chausson, Chabrier, etc. Ducros, piano, and Quatuor Ebène. Erato 0825646166930 (2), texts and translations

Recordings Jaroussky Green Cover 1115

THE APPEALING FRENCH countertenor Philippe Jaroussky returns to the romantic mélodies of his earlier recital Opium with this two-volume recording of settings of poetry by Paul Verlaine. The writer never bristled when composers set his verse, unlike some poets who considered their work complete without music, and this delightful recital sheds light on familiar texts in a vast array of musical styles, from well-known settings by Debussy, Fauré and Hahn to wonderful discoveries. 

The recital opens and closes with “Colloque sentimental,” a dreamy dialogue between two ghostly figures in an icy, deserted park. Opening the recital, Léo Ferré’s 1986 version sets a calm, sentimental tone, with the strings of the Quatuor Ebène, who play on several tracks, surrounding Jaroussky’s sweet tone. Debussy’s better-known 1904 setting, in Fêtes Galantes II, captures the haunted setting and highlights the strong differences between the eager questioner and the deadened partner, intensified by the countertenor’s sophisticated and committed performance.

In between, Jaroussky’s poised, elegant singing is unmistakably personal, born of musical confidence and linguistic ease. The cover art says it all: paired photographs show the lanky Frenchman both as a turn-of-the-century absinthe drinker, with floppy tie and walking stick, and in the same café chair with zip jacket and cell phone. He’s old-fashioned yet super-hip. Jaroussky never overdoes it, bringing ease and beautifully shaped line to the charming selections here.

The lugubrious poem “Un grand sommeil noir” (A long black sleep) attracted both Arthur Honegger in 1943 and Edgard Varèse, whose 1906 student composition is austere and haunting, its vocal line floating lightly above somber and oppressive piano chords. In just one of the recital’s fascinating juxtapositions, Jaroussky follows Varèse’s theatrical ending, “silence! silence!” with a lighthearted café-concert song, “Écoutez la chanson bien douce,” which then comes to a thundering, hilariously truncated conclusion to end the first disc.

Régine Wieniawski, daughter of the celebrated violinist/composer Henryk Wieniawski, composed under the pseudonym Poldowski, and her Debussy-influenced songs are a revelation; sensuous melodies drive “L’heure exquise,” and rhythmic energy characterizes the commedia dell’arte poem “Colombine.” Of four settings of “Il pleure dans mon coeur,” Florent Schmitt’s (1870–1958) shows an attractive harmonic richness, while Debussy’s celebrated version allows the listener to appreciate the pianistic command Jérôme Ducros brings to the entire recital. —Judith Malafronte 

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