Proms PCM 2: Susan Graham / Malcolm Martineau - Cadogan Hall, 27 July 2009
Bizet Chanson d'avril Franck Nocturne Chabrier Les cigales Bachelet Chère nuit Duparc Au pays où se fait la guerre Ravel Histoires naturelles – Le paon Caplet Le corbeau et le renard Roussel Réponse d'une épouse sage Debussy Fêtes galantes – Colloque sentimental Honegger Trois chansons de la petite sirène Rosenthal Chansons du monsieur Bleu – La souris d'Angleterre Poulenc La dame de Monte-Carlo Encore: Hahn A Chloris
French mélodie is a tricky genre to master. It must appear insouciant, unforced. Effort must be imperceptible, effect achieved by suggestion alone. Forget the intensity of lieder, the operatic grand gesture too. The poetry is often allusive, but it stands alone - the greatest songs of the genre have a jewel-like clarity that needs no further decoration.
Harder to pull off than it looks. But Susan Graham succeeded better than most. The full, gleaming tone was delicately shaded. Gesture - vocal and physical - was minimal. The air of cool abandon masked a keenly-focussed attention to text.
She programmed a number of lighter songs - Ravel's Le paon, Caplet's Le corbeau et le renard, Honegger's Trois chansons, Rosenthal's La souris d'Angleterre. They were never overplayed or undersung - she maintained her line and let the humour speak for itself without adding arch vocal 'effects' as many singers are tempted to. The aching longing of Bachelet's Chère nuit and Duparc's Au pays où se fait la guerre was conjured without affectation. Only Bizet's Chanson d'avril, hard-edged and wiry-toned, failed to convince.
Poulenc's La dame de Monte-Carlo is in a different idiom to the rest of the recital - a miniature opera almost. Here she let down her hair (not literally - it was lacquered rigid) to colour the tale of the luckless gambler in bold theatrical strokes.
Malcolm Martineau added some finely-judged French seasoning. Like Graham he understands that this music is too delicate to be pulled around.
The concert was broadcast live on Radio 3 and is available on the iPlayer for a few days here (complete with gratuitous mid-recital interviews - the BBC clearly don't believe an audience can handle a whole hour of pure music).
And medici.tv have a free recorded stream of virtually the same recital from Verbier last week, here. (HD throws up some unexpected details - beneath the shoulder pads and helmet head, check out the multiple piercings and thumb ring.)