It is ambitious for a male singer to take on Maurice Ravel’s Shéhérazade, a cycle usually performed by a female singer. In fact, a number of fine recordings by women already exist to question the need for a male version of the piece. Yet Jarnot executes the music convincingly in what is listed as the “world premiere recording” of this piece performed by a baritone. The three songs that comprise Shéhérazade, “Asie!”, “La flute enchantée,” and “L’indifférent,” are sustained pieces that require the clear presentation that Jarnot and Helmut Deutsch offer. Jarnot’s subtle execution of “Indifférent” bears attention for its extended lines and fine phrasing of the text.
The pianist Helmut Deutsch offers just the proper level of accompaniment, which supports Jarnot well with its discreet entrances and genuinely soft tone. Deutsch’s deft touch sets an appropriate tone for Ravel’s music, especially in some of the more subtle passages. When he faces more extroverted music, as in the previous song, “La flute enchantée,” Deutsch is equally convincing as he reinforces Jarnot’s careful phrasing. Yet it is the opening piece that shows the pair at their best. Jarnot’s exposed lines are full and strong, as he gives Tristan Klingsor’s texts meaningful expression. The repeated cries of “Asie!” suggest the wonder and yearning that the poet attempts to express in this celebration of all those exotic things that make up this powerful song. This is a song that requires sensitivity to work well in a recital, and even more to come off well in a recording like this. It is the remote, the other in us, that makes “Asia” so evocative and Jarnot expresses this well, not only in his inflection of the text, but his nuanced tones.
Similarly, the twelve Mélodies by Henri Duparc are the ones usually performed by a male singer, and Jarnot offers a fine interpretation of these quintessentially French songs. Baudelaire’s text for the final song, “La vie antérieure” offers a fine parallel with Ravel’s “Asie,” the song which opens this recording. In fact, some lines of Baudelaire’s poem are an apt comment on the performance:
. . . Mêlaient d’une façon solennelle et mystique
Les tout puissants accords de leur riche musique . . . .
. . . in a solemn and mystical way, mingled
the powerful chords of their rich music . . .
The performers succeed in conveying the unique sense of each of Duparc’s songs. Through the tempos he has chosen, Jarnot is able to express the text effectively, which is crucial to the settings of verse by such poets as Gautier, Baudelaire, and others. The familiar “L’invitation au voyage” is a fine collaboration between Jarnot and Deutsch, with its sinuous lines evoking the seduction described in the text. In contrast, the more emotionally direct “La vague et la cloche” is masterfully performed, with its almost raucous evocation of the waves that almost overwhelm the song’s protagonist. Between these somewhat extreme expressions of emotion, Duparc’s Mélodies involve a variety of situations that demand much from the performers. Jarnot gives these songs with insight and precision, elements that Deutsch reinforces in his meticulous accompanying. This is music for mature singers, musicians whose expressiveness goes beyond the words on the page to unearth the deeper meanings of the text and the subtleties of the musical lines.
Jarnot delivers the Duparc Mélodies consistently well, which makes this recording noteworthy for anyone interested in this music. The sound of this Oehms recording solidly conveys the nuances of expression for both the voice and piano. Unlike some other Oehms recordings, like Jarnot’s collection of Mahler’s Lieder, there is no question in this CD of French music about the placement of the microphones, which seem too close in that earlier recording. In the present one, the ambiance is appropriate to the music and performers.
As to the CD itself, the booklet includes the original texts for all the pieces on it, along with translations in German and English. With such relatively unfamiliar music, having the texts available is preferable to having listeners find them on their own. Oehms may want to provide consistently texts for fine recordings of vocal music, like this one. Overall, this is an impressive recording that bodes well for future recordings by this promising baritone.
James L. Zychowicz