"It is important for me to come back to art song as often as I can to hone my musicality and work in more detail as well as connect more intimately with my audience," explains soprano Layla Claire, whose 2016-17 calendar has been dominated by opera: Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Montreal, Zurich) and Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (Philadelphia).
Her debut recital album, Songbird (due out June 2 on ATMA Classique), has given her not only the art song fix she craves, but also an opportunity to collaborate with pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone, whom Claire describes as "a terrific musician and a joy to work with. Her personality is pure sunshine, which was a perfect match for the repertoire we chose."
The recording sessions took place in Salle Françoys-Bernier at Domaine Forget in the Charlevoix region of Quebec. "We recorded it there because of [the] terrific facilities and acoustics. The region was beautiful and inspiring — we had an incredible view of the St. Lawrence River. We walked along the beach and through the spectacular colours of the autumn forest between recording sessions."
Claire describes Songbird as a “sound garden — songs that we loved and thought worked well together,” rather than a collection built around a specific theme. “They are songs that are nurturing, cosy and charming,” she continues. “I wanted a CD that I could imagine someone putting on and listening to at home with a cup of tea."
The first song they selected was Ernest Chausson's "Dans la forêt du charme et de l'enchantement" — "unsettling, unusual and beautiful," says Claire — and they built the rest of the program around it: songs in three languages and spanning three centuries, from Henry Purcell's "Music for a While" to Dominik Argento's "Spring," by way of Gounod, Brahms, Wolf, Fauré, Britten and others.
"I added Barber's 'St. Ita's Vision' last," she notes of the lullaby from Hermit Songs, "as I was coming toward the end of my pregnancy and could start imagining rocking and nursing my little one."