Philippe Jaroussky / Jérôme Ducros- Purcell Room, 23 March 2009
Gabriel Dupont: Mandoline Ernest Chausson: Le colibri, Op.2 No.7 Camille Saint-Saens: Tournoiement (Songe d'opium) Reynaldo Hahn: Offrande Jules Massenet: Nuit d'espagne for voice & piano Cecile Chaminade: Automne Reynaldo Hahn: A Chloris Gabriel Faure: Automne Ernest Chausson: Papillons Ernest Chausson: Les heures Cecile Chaminade: Sombrero - extract Cesar Franck: Nocturne for voice & piano Reynaldo Hahn: Trois jours de vendage Gabriel Faure: En Sourdine Guillaume Lekeu: Sur une tombe
Reynaldo Hahn: Fetes galantes Cesar Franck: Prelude for piano Gabriel Faure: Nell, Op.18 No.1 Ernest Chausson: Le temps des lilas Reynaldo Hahn: Quand je fus pris au pavillon Cecile Chaminade: Mignonne Reynaldo Hahn: L'Heure exquise
It takes a brave countertenor to step out of the baroque box and dip a toe into the perfumed waters of French mélodie. But Philippe Jaroussky, sporting a boyish grin and an everso-slightly oversized suit, like he'd borrowed it from his dad, is that man. And who couldn't be excused for tiring of endless Vivaldi? Not a problem for le public français, for whom his top-20 Vivaldi albums make him bigger than Katherine Jenkins. Could les Brits, so far resistant to his charms, be tempted towards his new mélodie album Opium, the source of most of tonight's programme?
The angel purity of his voice bathes these mostly familiar works in a clean blue light. Their earthbound sensuality seems supplanted by something more noble and ethereal. But it's a illusion. Jaroussky's seamless legato, submerged consonants and immaculate breath control create a sheeny surface, but he resists entanglement with the specifics of text. Indeed he's reluctant even to articulate the words clearly. This delight in sensual beauty is arguably inherent in the genre's aesthetic. But it meant he was rarely truly engaging.
So much for the farewell to baroque - Jaroussky sounded at his most comfortable with the faux-Bach of Hahn's A Chloris. The Iberian fireworks of Nuit d'espagne and Chaminade's Sombrero neatly punctured the languid reverie, reminding us of Jaroussky's phenomenal coloratura skillz.
Pauline Viardot's Havanaise, the first of his two encores, evoked a more specific comparison - Cecilia Bartoli. This is her territory, no question. While Jaroussky probably wields the technical edge, la Ceci, I can't help feeling, would have crafted it with more colour and more joy.
A closing reprise of Chaminade's comic Sombrero gave Jaroussky the opportunity to slip down for a couple of lines into his natural baritone - surprisingly deep, surprisingly rough. I don't think he could have shocked us more if he'd dropped his trousers.