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Sandrine Piau [Photo by Expilly / Naïve courtesy of IMG Artists]
13 Apr 2012

Sandrine Piau, Wigmore Hall

Sandrine Paiu and Roger Vignoles teamed up for the latest concert in Vignoles’s “Perspectives” series at the Wigmore Hall, London.

Sandrine Piau, Wigmore Hall

Sandrine Piau soprano; Roger Vignoles piano. Wigmore Hall, London, April 11th 2012.

Above: Sandrine Piau [Photo by Expilly / Naïve courtesy of IMG Artists]


Piau’s background is in the baroque, where the ethereal purity of her voice seems to illuminate the music. Yet she’s also passionately involved in 20th century French music, and has worked with innovative ensembles like Accentus.

Piau and Vignoles are a well-balanced partnership, and on the basis of this concert, should work together more often. Piau brings out the best in Vignoles. He was playing with great refinement, as if inspired by her distinctive “white” timbre. Piau’s Fauré songs were good, but her Chausson set even better. Her Amour d’antan (op 8/2, 1882) glowed, legato perfectly controlled so lines flowed seamlessly. In Dans la forêt du charme et de l’enchantement (op.36/2, 1898) Piau observes the tiny pauses between words in the first strophe so they’re brief glimpses of elusive fairies. Then Piau’s voice darkens. The fairies aren’t real. “Mirage et leurre”, she sings, desolated. Piau sings almost unaccompanied in Les Heures (op 27/1, 1896), Vignoles playing with restraint so as not to break the fragile mood of the song. Hear these again on Piau’s recent recording “Après un rêve”.

In the more robust Liszt songs, like Der Fischerknabe, (S292), to a poem by Friedrich Schiller, Vignoles’s playing sparkled delightfully, like the waters that seduce the fisherman’s boy. “Lieb’ Knabe, bist mein!” sings Piau sharply, as the boy is pulled under the waves. Piau’s voice maintains its innocence, but the piano with its sharp lunge downwards tells us that it’s a malign spirit who drags the boy down. Der Loreley (S273, 1856) is even more dramatic, Piau intoning the word “Loreley” so you hear the tragedy behind the loveliness.+

Piau’s 2002 recording of Debussy Mélodies with Jan van Immseel, is still one of the best available. Ten years later, Piau’s voice is still fresh. Her Ariettes oubliées (op 22) to poems by Verlaine, was a pleasure. Long, arching lines, thrown out effortlessly in Il pleure dans mon coeur, expressing sadness, tinged with a very French decorum. “Quoi? Null trahison? .....ce deuil est sans raison”. In Chevaux de bois, Vignoles plays lines that move in circles, while the voice part leaps up and down. The image of a merry-go-round, where wooden horses seem to prance when there’s music. “Tournez, tournez”, sings Piau with a hint of sorrow, for soon the fair will end. You can hear the church bells toll in the piano part and guess at what they mean.

Piau sang some of the Zemlinsky and Strauss songs she recorded a few years ago with pianist Susan Manoff. This time they seemed livelier, perhaps because Vignoles’s style differs from Manoff’s. This specially benefits Zemlinsky. The brightness of Piau’s timbre gives his songs a lift they don’t often get. For various reasons, he’s not well served on recording. Piau sang Richard Strauss’s Mädchenblumen (op 22 1891) with similar grace and charm. Two Poulenc sets rounded off the evening : Deux Poèmes de Guillame Apollinaire (1938) and Deux Poèmes de Louis Aragon (1943). In Allons plus vite and Fêtes galante, Piau demonstrates impeccable diction at breakneck speed. The words busrts out like machine gun fire. Poulenc is taking aim at the complacent bourgeosie, shaking them out of their torpor. In the famous and very lovely song C, Piau and Vignoles are even more moving. “J’ai traversé les ponts de Cé”, sings Piau recalling French history flowing like a river. “O ma France! O ma délaissée”. France is occupied by the Germans. It’s a cry of pain, a dose of harsh reality after all those fairy songs and flowers.

Sandrine Piau is the soloist in a special concert at the Wigmore Hall on 15th October with Ian Page and Classical Opera titled “Ruhe sanft : A Mozart Kaleidoscope”.

Anne Ozorio

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