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French Mélodies Part 2

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French Mélodies Part 2: Gérard Souzay

My preference has long been for female singers... at least when dealing with the repertoire of the French Mélodies. The music and the poems both have such a degree of sensuality that they seem to call out for the female voice. Obviously with Philippe Jaroussky I have made an exception... then again, his artful and artificial countertenor is almost a perversely decadent exception.

Recently, however, I discovered Gérard Souzay. This great baritone was once touted as the French answer to the German Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. For anyone who loves classical vocalists and especially German lieder, Fischer-Dieskau is the inimitable pinnacle of song. As such, I took the comparisons with a large grain of salt. A single disc, however, changed my opinion:

Where Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was often contracted out to Deutsche Grammophon and EMI... two of the finest classical recording labels with the greatest sound engineers... Souzay, unfortunately, does not seem to have developed such a relationship with a major label. This particular disc of Mélodies by Claude Debussy is his sole recording for DG... but what a marvelous disc it is. The collection includes songs that set poems of Verlaine, Charles d'Orleans, Baudelaire, and even original poems by Debussy himself. Souzay's voice is absolutely marvelous... never gruff... but always polished... warm... enveloping... and expressive.

Unfortunately, there are no examples of Souzay's performances from this disc available on YouTube. On the other hand, there are any number of marvelous performances available on-line:

Chanson triste by Henri Duparc:

Gabriel Fauré's classic song, Après un rêve:

Duparc's Phidyle:

and Fauré's magical setting of Paul Verlaine's most famous poem, Clair de lune: