Recordings > Recital

Natalie Dessay: "Pictures of America"

CD Button Paris Mozart Orchestra, Gibault. No texts or translations. Sony 88985386282

Recordings Dessay Pictures of America Cover 717
Critics Choice Button 1015 

INSPIRED BY THE PAINTINGS of Edward Hopper, soprano Natalie Dessay offers her take on the American Songbook, with a series of songs arranged by prominent jazz musicians for string ensemble plus bass and drums. The paintings that prompted each inclusion are reproduced in the press materials but not in the commercial packaging, so the recording is clearly meant to stand on its own, which it does. The arrangements of these familiar songs are imaginative and unexpected, including fanciful instrumental interludes that take full advantage of the string textures. Throughout, Dessay adopts a wispy, ethereal sound with a hazy hush where her bright, focused core of sound once resided. Her tendency to play with vocal effects sometimes keeps her from mining the text, but when she combines sound and meaning, the results are chic and memorable.

“I’m a Fool to Want You” is moodily romantic, while “Detour Ahead” offers seductive confidence. She touchingly energizes her consonants in “The Two Lonely People,” which may be the most effective selection. In “On a Clear Day,” Dessay’s quiet wonderment floats over Baptiste Trotignon’s rocking strings like clouds scudding across the moving landscape. In another arresting arrangement, Trotignon resets “I Feel Pretty” in quintuple time with brushed snare and bowed string accents, which keeps the listener off balance. Its instrumental interlude pushes the song’s rhythmic and harmonic limits, though Dessay’s forced-sounding laughter at the end is unfortunate. As smooth as her English is, “Autour de minuit,” her French translation of “Around Midnight,” rings with sultry authenticity. “I Keep Going Back to Joe’s” is sexily confessional and conversational, while “Something’s Coming” is appealingly breathless.On the debit side, “Send in the Clowns” is bland, and the slow jazz swing of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” isn’t illuminating. But at the end of that one, Dessay taps into a fine soprano belt-mix that I wish she’d employed elsewhere, instead of pitching all the songs in the same low midrange.  —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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