This past Friday Signum Classics released the third volume in pianist Malcolm Martineau’s latest complete songs project, devoted to the catalog of Gabriel Fauré. Once again Martineau has assembled an array of vocalists, affording the opportunity to select, for each song, not only the right vocal range but also a quality of voice that fits both the text of the song and Fauré’s specific approach to style. This new volume introduces three new vocalists to the project: Isobel Buchanan, William Dazeley, and Louise Kemény. The “returning” vocalists from the first two volumes are Lorna Anderson, John Chest, Sarah Connolly, Iestyn Davies, Janis Kelly, Ann Murray, and Thomas Oliemans.
Thanks to the annual Vocal Series organized every year by San Francisco Performances, I have had an opportunity to listen to recitals by several of these vocalists. One key result is that I have become more attuned to the way in which Martineau draws upon Davies’ countertenor voice for a select few of the songs he has recorded to date. My guess is that Fauré himself would never have heard a countertenor perform any of his songs. However, Martineau has worked his way through this project with a keen sensitivity to establishing the right fit between the song and the vocalist performing it. The result is a traversal of an extensive repertoire that is as sensitive to the rhetorical impact of each song as it is to fitting the technical demands of each selection to the right vocalist.
I have already written about my own (inadequate) hands-on experience in accompanying a baritone (who was a work colleague) in several Fauré selections. One result is that this new release has allowed me to revisit two of my personal favorites, “Clair de lune” (Opus 46, Number 2) and “Les roses d’Ispahan” (Opus 39, Number 4). To my (not unanticipated) surprise, Martineau did not assign either of these to a baritone. The first is sung by Murray and the second by Kelly. Given how attuned both of these sopranos were to the spirit of their respective texts, I cannot say that I have any argument with Martineau’s choices!