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Recordings

Harmonia Mundi Musique HMM 902260
09 Dec 2018

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Sophie Karthäuser (soprano), Dominique Visse (countertenor), Eugene Asti (piano).

Harmonia Mundi Musique HMM 902260 [CD]

$16.54  Click to buy

The beasts, and hence the songs, also vary in temperament, from the endearing ducks in Chabrier’s springy “Villanelle des petits canards” to the deadly reptile in Poulenc’s darting “Le Serpent”. Tenor and tempo change constantly during in the 70-minute program. There are recital staples, such as Saties’s wryTrois Mélodies de 1916 and selections from Ravel’s Histoires naturelles. All of Poulenc’s settings of poems from Apollinaire’s Le Bestiaire are included. Among the less frequently heard numbers are “L’oiselet”, a Chopin mazurka arranged by Pauline Viardot, and Chabrier’s “Pastorale des cochons roses”, a rolling melody in praise of the quivering pinkness of pigs.

Animal poems often mirror human behaviour, and there is parody aplenty. Karthaüser is a vibrant narrator and delivers the humor naturally, cannily skewering the pithy aphorisms. Her crystalline timbre is immensely gratifying and she extracts a wide array of colors from her light lyric instrument. In delicate pieces, such as Hahn’s “Le rossignol de lilas”, she lets tonal beauty prevail, but also enjoys smacking out derisive syllables, such as when mocking the philistine turkeys in Chabrier’s “Ballade des gros dindons”. Her interpretative sensibility and vocal grace make favorites such as Fauré’s “Le papillon et la fleur” sound appealingly fresh. About two thirds of the way, two Italian cats join the parade of French mice, birds and insects. Countertenor Dominique Visse makes a surprise appearance and joins Karthaüser for some meowing and spitting in Rossini’s popular cat duet. Their slender, focused voices sound more authentically feline than the pillowy sopranos and mezzos one usually hears in this piece. Visse even sends up these vibrato-rich pairings at one point.

On the piano, Eugene Asti is boldly descriptive. He creates twinkling ripples around the swan in Ravel’s “Le cygne” and surrounds Baudelaire’s owls with nocturnal mystery in De Séverac’s Les hiboux. When required, such as in Chausson’s Le colibri, his playing has a gossamer transparency. The variety of the program is enriched when he goes solo in four playfully elegant extracts from Debussy’s Children’s Corner and Ibert’s Histoires, adding a drowsy elephant and a frisky white donkey to the menagerie. The recording strikes a good balance between an intimate closeness to Karthäuser’s voice and atmospheric space for the piano. The CD booklet contains the original poems with English translations and an informative essay by Denis Herlin. This recital is an excellent introduction to the genre. For those already familiar with these sometimes quirky, sometimes dreamy, always refined songs, Karthäuser and Asti will join the list of their worthy interpreters.

Jenny Camilleri

      

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