A new, well-filled single CD anthology of Decca and Philips song recordings made by a leading French lyric soprano of the 1950s.
This recital showcases the vivacious, versatile French lyric soprano, Janine Micheau (1914–1976). Three great 20th-century masters of orchestration are featured – Britten (‘Les Illuminations’), Ravel (Shéh’razade’) and Debussy (‘La Damoiselle élue’) – along with the ever-delightful Chabrier (‘Ode à la musique’ and excerpts from ‘Le Roi malgré lui’).
At the age of just 21, Micheau had been chosen by Ernest Ansermet to sing the role of Mélisande for his performances of Debussy’s opera in Amsterdam; she then became known the world over for her vivacious portrayal of Micaëla, as a carefree foil to many notable Carmens, and immortalised on disc by Sir Thomas Beecham’s recording of 1959 with Victoria de los Angeles in the title role: ‘I send up a loud Olé,’ exclaimed the original Gramophone critic.
Listening to Micheau’s recording of 1951, partnered with masterful sensitivity to texture and timbre by the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux and Paul Sacher, it seems all the more remarkable that more French sopranos have not taken Britten’s early settings of Rimbaud into their repertoire; for many years, Micheau’s was the only native recording. She brings an unusually light voice to Ravel’s sensually hedonistic setting of poems by Tristan Klingsor but also an acute tonal and dynamic variety. Heady vocal languor is again the key-note of Debussy’s cantata – or as he identified it, ‘a little oratorio, in a mystic, slightly pagan vein’.
At the June 1952 Paris sessions for the Debussy, accompanied by the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire and Jean Fournet, Micheau also recorded three items by Emmanuel Chabrier, his delicious ‘Ode à la musique’ – similarly featuring a women’s chorus – and two more playful numbers from the second act of his 1886 opera ‘Le Roi malgré lui’, a gypsy song and a sextet of servants.
Les Illuminations, Op. 18
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux
La Damoiselle élue
Janine Collard, mezzo-soprano
Ode à la musique
Le Roi malgré lui
Sextuor des serves
Jean Mollien, tenor
Chorale Élisabeth Brasseur
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire
Janine Micheau, soprano
Recording Producers: Jaap van Ginneken (Britten, Ravel); John Culshaw (Debussy, Chabrier)
Balance Engineers: unknown (Debussy, Chabrier); Boutot, Hans Lauterslager (Ravel); Henk Jansen, Hans Lauterslager (Britten)
Original LP Releases: Philips A00469Y (Britten, Ravel); Decca LXT 2743 (Debussy, Chabrier)
‘These recordings are first-rate versions.’ High Fidelity(Britten/Ravel)
‘Micheau was of that somewhat unfortunate and perhaps underrated generation of singers whose careers were cut in two by the Second World War … the ‘Damoiselle élue’ always seemed to be her best recorded work. Hearing it again, one admires no less the clear definition and the virginal simplicity.’ Gramophone, April 1985
‘The two scenes from ‘Le Roi malgré lui’ are full of that irony that never swamps the poetry in Chabrier’s music.’ Gramophone