Sandrine Piau / Susan Manoff ÉVOCATION

This is a beautiful recital--a complete, well-thought-out, gorgeously sung program that combines compatible, complementary works with a singer who knowingly, sensitively interprets them. Although the songs span the period from the 1880s to the 1930s and are the creations of six composers who, albeit contemporaries, are not customarily joined together stylistically, there's an inexplicable camaraderie of spirit that illumines and threads through these songs whose subjects are love's longing and hope, pain, pleasure, and danger, conveyed through images of flowers, birds, trees, water, colors. Color may be the key word here, for each composer treats voice and piano with such careful concern for timbre, for the effects of upper-register brightness, textural density and transparency, and for the inherent tonal qualities, rhythms, and inflections of language, be it French or German.
Soprano Sandrine Piau has an ideal voice for this music--true and lovely across her range, with no points of harshness, no weakness of technique. And especially in the French repertoire, her ability to phrase and impart feeling is consistent with her statement in the notes that this is her "most personal and intimate" album. Although she does a nice job with the Strauss songs, they don't seem to flow as naturally as, for instance, those by Chausson (of which Le Colibri--"the hummingbird"--for me was the highlight of the disc). Piau is fortunate to have such a musical soul-mate in pianist Susan Manoff, a superb partner who also knows about nuances of color, from the softest shades to tones more bold and emphatic.
There's much to savor here--it would be difficult to name an inferior song among the program's 30 selections--but the rarely-heard Strauss Mädchenblumen, Schoenberg's beautiful and affecting Vier Lieder Op. 2 (from 1899), and Koechlin's Sept Chansons pour Gladys (to his own very strange texts) are of particular interest. And you've never heard a more gently endearing song than Zemlinsky's Frühlingslied or a more perfectly evocative musical creation than Debussy's Fleur des blés, depicting a breeze rippling through a cornfield, a whispering bird, cascading hair, sunshine, and flowers. The sound is nicely balanced and complementary to both voice and piano, with a comfortably positioned listener perspective (not always the case with voice/piano recitals!). Highly recommended. (David Vernier / ClassicsToday.com)

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