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Immeasurably sophisticated

The Songs of Francis Poulenc -
appreciated by

'Mr Sperry is not only up to the challenge, but transcends it in these consistently magical performances.'

The Songs of Francis Poulenc. Ian Hobson, Paul Sperry (p) 1999 Zephyr


Few musical genres sport the elegance of the French chanson. Celebrated singers of yesteryear, such as Suzanne Danco, Hugues Cuenod, Charles Panzera, Paul Derenne and Pierrre Bernac, each an authority on French song, moved into this repertoire with just the right combination of wistful deference, elevated sentiment and melancholic austerity.

Paul Sperry, for many years well known among his colleagues as one of the great interpreters of French song, is equally at home among his exalted colleagues. Poulenc (1899-1963) wrote more than 120 songs, fashioning many of them into idiosyncratic cycles dealing with particular subjects, and set to the sumptuous poetry of Eluard, Vilmorin, Aragon, Apollinaire and others. More epigrammatic than opulent, they bear little in common with the chansons of Debussy, apart from the French language.

So impressive is Mr Sperry's interpretive savvy and letter perfect French diction that, in the famous 'C', a song inspired by the horrors of World War I, and its legacy of loneliness and regret, he carries us directly into that perhaps not so remote world. The manner in which he imposes a slight hesitation or a delicate pianissimo on a particular word that dreams its way into cadence is nearly cinematic in its effect. Witness, for example, how he wraps his silvery tenor around the word 'delaissee' (forsaken) in such as way as to personify the longing for a better day; or his infusion of 'De la prairie ou vient danser' with a kind of ambrosial warmth, as if it were the bucolic subject of a landscape painting. It is this sort of thing that distinguishes artistry from pedantry: Mr Sperry moves beyond the text and into the realm of sensual data it conveys: visual, olfactory, and tactile. His reading is at once savvy and informed by a sense of time and place, as if it were being sung in that very field some eighty-seven years ago. How poignant and refined, too, are his readings of Young Soldier, another of the War Songs, and the painfully nostalgic La grenouilliere.

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Copyright © 27 February 2002 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA







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