Philippe Jaroussky manages the exquisite shift from Handel to Hahn.

Mélodies Françaises on Poems of Paul Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky ct, Jerome Ducros p, Quator Ébène
ERATO 0825646166930

Why shouldn’t a countertenor have the necessary sensitivity and vocal technique to perform French mélodies? That’s the challenging question that Philippe Jaroussky poses in the liner notes of his latest album on Warner’s Erato label.

Firmly established as a darling of the Baroque, Jaroussky forsakes Vivaldi for Verlaine with his latest project. He makes his case for the move to art song most eloquently in this exquisite and charming double-disc set which runs to 43 tracks covering a plethora of styles, dovetailing the familiar works of Fauré, Debussy and Chausson with those of lesser-known composers.

“Jaroussky makes his case for the move to art song most eloquently”

Jaroussky did something similar on his 2009 release Opium, but Green is far more ambitious. For this all-French affair his recital partner pianist Jérôme Ducros and the excellent Quatuor Ébène – one of the most exciting of the current crop of young European string quartets, join him. They are superb across a wide range of styles with violinist Pierre Colombet occasionally channelling Stéphane Grappelli and Ducros having some ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay moments. Mezzo Nathalie Stutzmann joins Jaroussky for Jules Massenet’s sumptuous Rêvons, c’est l’heure – another of the many highlights.

As Jaroussky told Limelight in 2013: “To be a countertenor, it’s not to imitate a woman – it’s more to stay a child in a way.” That said, his timbre and range of expression is more soprano-like than most falsetto singers and that holds him in good stead for this material.  

The best known Verlaine settings are those of Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré and Reynaldo Hahn, and it’s interesting to compare how each tackles the same poem. 

Hahn, Marcel Proust’s lover and friend, was born in Venezuela and brought up in France. He was only 12 when he began setting seven Verlaine poems for his collection Chansons Grises. The poet cried when he heard Hahn perform them. His setting of D’une Prison, based on Verlaine’s experiences after he was jailed for trying to kill his lover – fellow-poet Arthur Rimbaud – is one of the exquisite gems of this collection.

A wide net is cast for material. Poldowski (aka Belgian-born pianist composer Régine Wieniawski, later Lady Dean) is reasonably well known for her songs and they feature alongside Ernest Chausson and Camille Saint-Saëns, not to mention two delicious collaborations between Verlaine and Emmanuel Chabrier. Jaroussky is equally at home in the versions by post-war singer-songwriters Léo Ferré, Georges Brassens and Charles Trenet (he of La Mer fame). This is something very special and seductive.


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