CD Review: English Songs à la française (Bridge)

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

English Songs à la française.
Songs by Gounod, Hahn, Massenet, Milhaud, Poulenc, Roussel, Ravel, Saint-Saëns

Tyler Duncan, baritone. Erika Swtizer, piano

Bridge 9537

★★★★

The catalogue of English settings by French composers is not vast, but neither is it inconsiderable, to judge by this intriguing recital by the New York State-based Canadian baritone Tyler Duncan. Most of the songs are in merry major mode. Saint-Saëns’s gloomy “‘Tis better so,” after the harmless “Cherry-Tree Farm,” is an exception. There are artful evocations of folksy British harmony or rhythm: Ravel is successful with minimal means in his Chanson écossaise (a setting of a Scots text by Burns, despite the French title). Another winner is Poulenc’s Fancy (i.e. “Tell me where is fancy bred” from The Merchant of Venice). Leave it to this still-underrated master to create an earworm with his one song not in French. Reynaldo Hahn’s Five Little Songs are exquisite miniatures. Has a child’s swing ever been more vividly portrayed on a piano? High praise is owing Gounod for conveying both the impatience of passion (“If thou art sleeping, maiden”) and the stop-and-go hesitation of caution (“Beware,” also to words by Longfellow). Gounod’s work stands out. It is a shame that the booklet annotator, the veteran baritone François Le Roux, has nothing particular to say about them. Milhaud’s inspiration is less steady, although “Peace, my heart” (Rabindranath Tagore) concludes the program with a nostalgic glow. (Unfortunately, this text, along with some others, is omitted from the booklet.) If not in command of the widest palette, Duncan sings with focus and interpretive savvy. The accompaniment of Erika Swtizer is a delight.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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About Author

Arthur Kaptainis has been a classical music critic since 1986. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Musical Toronto. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto. Since 2019, Arthur is co-editor of La Scena Musicale.

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