Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Chabrier Debussy Duparc Hahn Ravel Saint-Saens

Debussy: Trois melodies de Paul Verlaine

Duparc: Le gallop; Lamento; Elegie; La vie anterieure

Saint-Saens: 2 songs from Melodies persanes

Chabrier: L’ile heureuse; Chanson pour Jeanne, Les cigales

Hahn: Trois jours de vendange; Cimitiere de compagne

Ravel: Histoires naturelles

Debussy: Trois ballades de Francois Villon

Stéphane Degout – baritone & Hélène Lucas – piano

Wigmore Hall, 10 February 2011

Just a few discerning Wigmore regulars joined a select Francophile audience in what proved to be a stunningly good concert.


Stéphane Degout may be pretty well known on the opera stage – he’s just completed a successful run as Pelleas at the Met under the baton of Simon Rattle and in a quality cast including Magdalena Kozena, Gerald Finley, Felicity Palmer and Willard White – but he is also fast emerging as a very talented recitalist.


This was my first chance to see him on the concert platform, and the relative modesty of his demeanour effectively cloaks the magnitude of his voice.  It has a darkish and steely quality, but he can shade and colour like a magician. 


We seldom hear French sung well in England; this was superb, near perfect diction with none of those spurious rolled rrrrrr’s and other mannerisms that people seem to think add authenticity, and he showed an intelligent respect for the flow of the poetry.  Above all it was the sheer musicality of everything that he did that made this performance stand out.


I have never heard Duparc sung better, and even a poem as banal as Mendès’ Chanson pour Jeanne (in Chabrier’s deceptively simple setting) was raised to heights of eloquence; indeed it provoked a spontaneous outburst of applause in the middle of a ‘set’, a very rare breach of Wigmore protocol. 


The whole programme was full of interest, prefaced by the sumptuousness of early Debussy, with the piano part almost unrestrained in its depiction of the sea, and climaxing in the implied medieval austerity of one the same composer’s late works – his only cycle written specifically for the male voice.


Between these we heard Duparc and Hahn, two names intrinsic to the most accomplished of French song, and rare appearances from the often overlooked oeuvres of Chabrier and Saint-Saëns. 


Ravel’s Histoires naturelles are often regarded as something of a curiosity – tonight the menagerie came to life and the perpetually ill-tempered guinea-fowl was particularly splendidly characterised.


Many of the songs we heard are notable for the complexity and virtuosity of their piano accompaniment.  Hélène Lucas came through these tests with unflagging technical mastery, but just lacked a certain element of charm and elegance that would have raised her playing to superlative.


Serena Fenwick