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Susan Graham - Un frisson français

10 Classical Albums that matter in 2008 - The Denver Post - Kyle Macmillan 7 December 2008
 
Although she grew up in West Texas, with not a drop of French blood in her veins, Graham possesses an instinctive feel and obvious affection for French vocal music of all kinds.
In this delightful album, she traverses two centuries of French art songs or melodies by 22 famous and not-so-famous composers. With first-rate support from Martineau, she adroitly negotiates the range of styles and moods with nary a misstep, capturing their distinctly Gallic esprit.
 
Susan Graham Shivers with Frenchness - Charles T. Downey -Ionarts 27.12.08

When Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau gave a concert of mélodies at the Terrace Theater in 2007, I expressed the hope that "this recital program will be Graham's next recording." And thus it came to pass, this past March, that the duo recorded almost the same program in London. It brings together a score and some of pieces by a score of composers from the 19th and 20th centuries, with very few old favorites. Both Graham (at the concert) and Martineau (in the liner notes) describe the program as a "tasting menu," a connoisseur's guided tour of the less traveled départements of French song. As far as I can tell, only Debussy's Harmonie du Soir and Gounod's Où voulez-vous aller? disappeared from the program heard at the Terrace Theater, the latter replaced by the same composer's Au rossignol. Graham also happily chose to include Reynaldo Hahn’s pleasing À Chloris, which she gave as an encore at the Terrace Theater, calling it "possibly my favorite song in the world." (It is a duplication, as she already used the song to open her very much worthwhile Reynaldo Hahn CD, with Roger Vignoles, but no one is likely to complain.) Graham's voice is one of the silkiest among today's mezzo-sopranos, perhaps on the small side by comparison to others, but that is actually a bonus in the song repertoire. Her low range is smooth and rarely forced, though with plenty of sound in Saint-Saëns's Danse macabre, a mistuned waltz for zig-zagging skeletons. One of the best songs is Emile Paladilhe's Psyché, the sort of slow and tender song that is exactly right for the exquisite instrument that is Susan Graham's voice.

 
New Zealand Herald - Best of the Year - 13 December 2008
 
Un Frisson Francais has the American mezzo Susan Graham joining Malcolm Martineau in 24 songs from Bizet to Poulenc. This is a treasure trove which measures out delicious lyricism and laughter as well, from Graham giving voice to Saint-Saens' fiddling Grim Reaper to a charming cabaret chanson by Rosenthal about an English mouse who could only be enticed into the trap by Cheshire cheese.
 
 
Sunday Times - Record of the Year - Hugh Canning 7.12.08
 
Graham's "bouquet" of French song, spanning 100 years from Gounod to Messiaen is one of the most delicious surprises of the year - chocolate truffles for the ears 
 
Gramophone - Edward Greenfield - November 2008
 
With Susan Graham in radiant form and Malcolm Martineau not just an accompanist but an active partner in the project, "Un frisson francais" offers a unique survey of French melodie from the mid 19th to the mid-20th:  22 songs - one per composer...  A rich collection in excellent sound - no-one will be disappointed.  
 
Sunday Telegraph  12.10.08- Michael Kennedy *****
 
...sung ravishingly by this wonderful artist. She and her pianist bring something exceptional to each song and end this outstanding disc with Poulenc's nostalgic melodrama La dame de Monte-Carlo
 
Classic FM Magazine - November 2008 - Andrew Stewart *****
 
Imagination, wit and the skilfully manipulated French frisson of this album's title are among the strategic resources that are tapped in a recital disc that can hold its own with the best... 
 
Daily Telegraph - Richard Wigmore 4.10.08
 
Susan Graham is that rare beast - a non-Francophone who sings expressive idiomatic French...she captivates with her sensuous, subtly-coloured tone and acute feeling for mood and nuance. She can float a caressing line, as in Canteloube's Brezairola, and catches all the bleak disillusion of Debussy's Colloque sentimental. She crowns the performance with a brilliantly acted performance of Poulenc's monodrama La dame de monte Carlo...
 
Philadelphia Enquirer 17.11.08 - David Patrick Stearns
 
An all-French recital extending from Bizet through Messiaen is bound to have passages where every third word seems to be 'papillons' or 'charmant'. But cliches are spectacularly transcended here in a disc arranged in roughly chronological order, each composer represented by only one song. Few are familiar, such as Henri Duparc's anti-war "To the Land Where War is Raging" or Reynaldo Hahn's "To Chloris." The rest explore repertoire even Francophiles may not know about, including composers not normally associated with song, such as César Franck, Édouard Lalo, André Caplet and Albert Roussel.
 
Virtually every one is a distinctive, significant find, whether Saint-Saens' "Dance of Death" that inspired his later orchestra work Danse Macabre, with words examining the egalitarian elements of death, or Honegger's Three Songs of the Little Mermaid, whose title character is heard calling out through watery piano figures in distant keys.
Susan Graham has sung French music most of her professional life, and it shows in the way she locates the core musicality of a piece while also characterizing the voices within each song with engaging theatricality. In terms of vocal luster, she's never sounded better - or better framed, thanks to Malcolm Martineau's superb accompaniment.
 
London Evening Standard 12.11.08 - Norman Lebrecht
 
The American mezzo Susan Graham covers the quai of French song from Bizet to Poulenc in five sets. The selection is clever, eclectic and often downright obscure. A rare nocturne by the severe Cesar Franck, a sentimental neurosis called Psyche by the unspellable Paladilhe, The Lost Fiancee by Messiaen and Manuel Rosenthal’s English Mouse are just a sampling of this potpourri. Malcolm Martineau is the impeccable accompanist in St Paul’s Church, New Southgate, which is engineered to sound like a Left Bank salon. Delicious.
 
BBC Music Magazine - Vocal Recording of the Month November 2008 ***** Performance and Sound  (Robert Maycock) 
 
Based on a touring programme, Graham and Martineau’s selection puts its own spin on the recital format, grouping songs by affinity rather than by composer. Of the latter there are 22, each appearing once: melodists, romantics, early moderns, stylisers, running from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th. The familiar appears in unusual contexts and alongside a scattering of rarities. Bizet’s fresh harmonies go next to the steamed-up chromaticism of Franck’s Nocturne; between Chabrier and Chausson comes Emile Paladilhe’s quiet, intensely sensual Psyche, for which Graham persuasively darkens her low-register timbre.
  Then there’s Alfred Bachelet’s Chere nuit, its expansive phrases overlapping the introduction like a French Morgen, followed by Duparc’s Au pays ou se fait la guerre – one of the greatest works here, and performed with the full cumulative power of its sense of impending calamity. It’s worth pausing between groups, because the impact is intense, steeped in longing and loss with little of the light or frivolous. Even Manuel Rosenthal’s witty La Souris d’Angleterre sounds like a premonition of latter-day tourists’ excesses. The performers are at one in their fluency, delicate rubato and avoidance of Anglo-Saxon archness, within an acoustic that combines intimacy and atmosphere.
 
The Observer - 18.10.08 - Anthony Holden
'
Resistance is futile,' wrote the New York Times after the American mezzo Susan Graham passed through town with this fresh, unpredictable and varied programme covering a century of French song. In this repertoire, as in most others, Graham charms, flirts and beguiles, from Bizet and Saint-Saens to Poulenc, via lesser-known rarities such as Hahn's 'A Chloris' and Canteloube's 'Brezairola'. 'Un frisson Francais' captures Graham at her most lyrical, contagiously joyful one moment, poignantly heartfelt the next.
 
Sunday Times, 28.9.08 - Hugh Canning - CD of the Week
 
Five years have passed since we last heard from the American mezzo in the recording studio, although this “bouquet” recital comes hard on the heels of her live recording of Berlioz’s La Mort de Cléopâtre with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil on EMI (lavishly praised by David Cairns here two Sundays ago). Berlioz, as it happens, is almost the only significant figure omitted from this near-comprehensive one-song-per-composer survey — Delibes and Massenet, too, are noticeable by their absence — ranging from Bizet’s Chanson d’Avril, of 1866, to Poulenc’s La Dame de Monte Carlo, of almost 100 years later (1961). Most of the expected suspects are included, of course, but with songs off the well-beaten track. Ravel’s Le Paon — with its yowling peacock cries on the word “léon” — from Histoires Naturelles, is one of very few tracks taken from the standard repertoire, and one of Graham’s favourite songs, A Chloris, Reynaldo Hahn’s exquisite nostalgic recollection of the galant era of Lully and Rameau, had to be included, even though she recorded it in her album devoted entirely to Hahn (Sony).
The buried treasure consists of the delectable Psyché, by Emile Paladilhe (1844-1926), Chère nuit, by Alfred Bachelet (1864-1944), and La Souris d’Angleterre, a high-jinks cabaret song about an English mouse by the great Offenbach conductor-arranger Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003). Graham’s superb pianist, Martineau, is the begetter of what he calls a menu gourmand, and with the help of Graham’s velvet mezzo and beautifully enunciated French, it is served up sumptuously.
 
All Music Guide.com - Stephen Eddins
 
Unlike collections that focus on a single composer, or sets of songs by various composers, this CD featuring soprano Susan Graham and pianist Malcolm Martineau includes one song each by 22 French composers, spanning almost a century. Arranged in groups according to style, essentially, but not strictly chronologically, the songs form a compendium of compositional trends from the 1860s to the 1930s, with one selection from the 1960s. They range from the romantic mélodies of Bizet and Franck to Poulenc's monodrama "La Dame de Monte Carlo." In additional to all the composers one would expect to find represented, there are real finds by the largely forgotten Emile Paladilhe and Alfred Bachelet. The warmth of Graham's voice is well suited to these songs, and she brings them a velvety legato. She is equally at home in the serenely lyrical songs, like Hahn's "À Chloris," and the more dramatic, narrative songs like Caplet's "Le Corbeau et le Renard," and the amusing, faux-spooky "Dance Macabre" by Saint-Saëns. Martineau provides a subtle and supportive accompaniment. Onyx's sound is clean and vibrant, with a good sense of presence.
 
Independent on Sunday 16.10.08- Anna Picard
 
 
Indulgence is the byword in Susan Graham and Malcom Martineau's recital of 20 chansons... her characterisation of Rosenthal's playful "La Souris d'Angleterre", Hahn's neo-baroque "A Chloris" and the arch tragedy of Poulenc's "La Dame de Monte-Carlo" is impeccable. Martineau's precision is displayed to good effect in the intricate figures of Lalo's "Guitare", Chausson's "Les Papillons" and Honegger's "Trois Chansons de la Petite Sirène".

 
Music Web International  8.10.08 - RECORDING OF THE MONTH - John Quinn
 
Two things that I’ve learned over the last few years are that any recital disc from Susan Graham is likely to be An Event and that she has a particular affinity for French repertoire. Her latest CD reinforces both points.

Malcolm Martineau, her regular recital partner, tells us in an introductory note, that this particular programme, which they toured in 2007 and 2008, was assembled as a kind of "menu gourmand or tasting menu." Each of the composers is represented by just one song – though, actually, Honegger’s allocation is three tiny ones that go together. The songs are presented in roughly chronological order and are divided into four groups, with the Poulenc piece standing in splendid isolation at the end.
Although all the great names of mélodie are included several of their items are rarities. We also hear a number of songs by largely forgotten composers as well as pieces by several composers who are well known for their music in other genres but not really as songwriters. In other words, this is a most enterprising collection and, to continue Martineau’s metaphor, a most enticing menu.
Collectors will know that Susan Graham’s voice is a glorious instrument. Her tone is warm and full, yet also very focused; her range is extensive; and she relishes the words. All these virtues are well to the fore in this recital.
There are several items here that are real rarities. I’d never even heard of Émile Paladilhe, I’m afraid. His Psyché is rather sentimental and sweet but Miss Graham sings it most touchingly and with sincerity. She makes it a delight from start to finish. Another name – and song – that was new to me was that of Alfred Bachelet and his Chère nuit. This was written for Melba and it’s suffused with sultry emotion. There’s a quasi-operatic dimension too. Susan Graham, with her voluptuous tone, seems ideally suited to it. She identifies completely with the song and, as is so often the case in this recital, spins an exquisite, long line. Frankly, this is singing for which to die.
Moving to some more familiar names, she delivers the opening Bizet item deliciously, responding beautifully to the innocent, eager charm of the setting. She follows this with a piece by Frank, who I’ve never thought of as a composer of mélodies. In fact, he didn’t compose much in this genre but Miss Graham makes a very strong case for Nocturne. This is another item in which one admires her sense of line. She and the admirable Malcolm Martineau make the change into the major key for the last verse a lovely moment.
The song by Chabrier is a delight. Much of the interest here lies in the inventive, chirruping piano part, which Martineau plays superbly. As Gerald Larner says in his note, the vocal line in the Chausson item ‘floats effortlessly on an ingeniously fluttering accompaniment’. Both Miss Graham and her pianist display wonderful yet discreet artistry here and their mutual understanding and rapport ensure that this song is a great success.
Among the better-known names, the Debussy piece receives a sensuous performance, as does the Fauré Vocalise. The Canteloube offering is one of his celebrated Chants d’Auvergne. Here, shorn of the orchestration, which can sometimes seem to swamp these songs, the song becomes touchingly simple. The melody is, as it were, taken back to basics, or very nearly. It’s a lovely performance and it takes real artistry to spin a gossamer vocal line in the way that Susan Graham does here. The Duparc song, placed much earlier in the recital, couldn’t be in greater contrast and it’s a tribute to Miss Graham that she can encompass such a variety of music so effortlessly. This is a dramatic Big Song and she projects it marvellously. Gerald Larner draws a parallel with Mahler – or, to be precise, ‘pre-Mahler’ - which I must say hadn’t occurred to me before, but which seems very apt.
This CD contains the third recording that I’ve heard by Miss Graham of Hahn’s À Chloris and this is as good as any of its predecessors. This piece could have been written for her, so well does it suit her voice and expressive range. Malcolm Martineau weights the Bach-pastiche piano part perfectly and supports his singer beautifully in a sublime account of the song.
After displaying her gift for humour in Rosenthal’s La Souris d’Angleterre, which she sings with a definite twinkle in her eye until the pathos of the pay-off, Susan Graham closes with a wonderful performance of Poulenc’s La Dame de Monte Carlo. This was written for the great Denise Duval and was originally scored for orchestra. In fact it’s a mini-scena. By turns the music is witty, voluptuous, vivacious and touchingly melancholic – almost a microcosm of Poulenc’s output, in fact. Miss Graham is in total command of the piece and responds to each change of mood superbly. Her performance crowns a wonderfully inventive and superbly executed recital.
This is as fine a disc of mélodies as I’ve heard in a long time. The programme is marvellously varied and full of interest and both Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau are on top form throughout. Gerald Larner’s succinct but excellent notes set each item in context. Finally, the recording is excellent, balancing the performers very well and providing truthful and musical sound. This disc provides unalloyed pleasure and is not to be missed.
Encore, s’il vous plait.
 
 
Musical Criticism.com - Dominic Mc Hugh 25.9.08
 
As the ravishing sounds she produces throughout this new CD demonstrate, Onyx Classics has scored a coup in signing up American mezzo-soprano superstar Susan Graham to record an album with them.
 
And it's typical of the boutique label that the artist has been matched to a repertoire that suits her down to the ground.
The project is a fascinating one, bringing together twenty-four songs from twenty-two French composers, taking us from the 'founding fathers' of mélodie in the nineteenth century – Bizet, Franck, Gounod – to Poulenc's melodrama 'La Dame de Monte-Carlo' of 1961. The result is as sharply insightful an overview of French song as you could hope to find on a single disc.
 
The opening words of the first track – Bizet's 'Chanson d'avril' – say it all: 'Leve-toi!' sings Graham, and we really do wake up to witness her musical journey through a century of works. Instantly, one can sense her idiomatic grasp of the language – rare in a non-native speaker – which helps her to make as persuasive a case as possible for this oft-neglected repertoire.
 
Graham and her accompanist, the redoubtable Malcolm Martineau, have grouped the items into five sections. The first brings together Bizet, Franck, Lalo, Gounod and Saint-Saëns, songs which display the smooth line for which the French are famous. The strongest of these are Gounod's 'Au rossignol', which is both textually and musically full of nocturnal reflections, and the rarely-heard song version of Saint-Saëns' 'Danse macabre', which provides Graham with a challenging tongue-twister. She dispatches the latter with consummate ease, and I can't resist the temptation to keep listening to it in isolation from the rest of the disc.
 
The second group is all about strongly coloured music from the fin-de-siècle, and in Chabrier's 'Les Cigales' – a half-comic song about cicadas – it's the expressive piano part that stands out. Another animal song, Chausson's 'Les Papillons', also relies on the piano part to conjure up the fluttering of wings, though Graham's admirably full-toned rendition of the vocal line is also striking. The singer comes to the fore more in Bachelet's 'Chère nuit' – more obviously a vocal showcase for a dramatic opera singer and utterly spellbinding in Graham's hands – though I must confess that Paladilhé's 'Psyche' is slightly on the sentimental side for my taste, beautiful though Graham's rendition is.
 
Much more original and inspiring is Ravel's mighty 'Le Paon', a rather poignant song about a peacock who struts about in his full regalia as if it were his wedding day – only his bride never comes. The combination of the French baroque double-dotted rhythms with a more sophisticated harmonic language (which is one of the themes of the third group of songs) makes this a gripping experience, and both Graham and Martineau truly engage with the material. Caplet's similarly vivid 'The Crow and the Fox' likewise encourages Graham to dramatise the material in a quasi-theatrical manner, while the set is completed by contrasting numbers by Roussel, Messiaen and Debussy (the latter's haunting 'Colloque sentimental' is special amongst these).
 
The final group takes us into a mid-twentieth-century mood of introspection and retrospective contemplation. Childhood and the inheritance of the music of the past are infused through the songs of six composers including Fauré, Hahn, Canteloube and Honegger. It's the two comic songs that stand out for me. First we have Satie's 'Le Chapelier', which is a two-stanza work describing the Mad Hatter's predicament in Alica in Wonderland: his watch is three days slow, even though he took care to grease it with butter, and dipping it in tea isn't helping to make it go faster. Meanwhile, the 'English Mouse' of Rosenthal's song departs from the port of Manchester without knowing where the ship was bound.  She terrorises the burghers of Calais, who put down different kinds of cheese to catch her, including Brie and Gruyere, but don't succeed until they provide the Cheshire variety. Graham relishes the wittiness of both these items, especially the use of both English and French words in the Rosenthal piece.
 
The disc comes to an end with Poulenc's seven-minute 'La Dame de Monte-Carlo', which was his final vocal work (1961). Telling the suicidal story of the 'Lady of Monte Carlo', it calls upon both singer and pianist to evoke a plethora of colours and emotions, and Graham and Martineau work hard to oblige. It's truly a masterpiece, adding to Poulenc's trademark techniques – a leaping melodic line and thick, blank chords in the piano – a remarkably autumnal wistfulness.
 
The familiarity with the material gained from performing it live has reaped dividends in this studio recording, and for me, at least, the disc has gone some way to opening up the wealth of variety in a repertoire that has an inferior reputation to its German counterparts