His solo recital of The Goldberg Variations in the glorious acoustic of the Philharmonie de Paris on 23 November was a triumph, tinged nonetheless with the feeling of tragedy. The same week, he received a phone call from the French Minister of Culture requesting he play at the official memorial for the victims of the Friday 13th terror attacks, in the presence of President Hollande and the families of the deceased and wounded.
Another iconic French artist, soprano Natalie Dessay, was enlisted to sing. Tharaud instantly began to prepare an arrangement of Barbara's Perlimpinpin. “There is no song more appropriate for this tribute,” he told Le Figaro, “These are the words of a great artist incensed, opposing war and weapons with tenderness and heart…This song is about going towards ‘the other’ with arms outstretched, to understand and to love the other.”
Tharaud requested the same piano on which he had recorded The Goldberg Variations for his latest album: “a sublime piano that I’m very comfortable playing.” Tharaud and Dessay rehearsed together the night before the ceremony on 27 November and arrived at Les Invalides at 6am the following morning. As she took the stage, Dessay whispered to the pianist that "she was afraid she might break down."
Their tribute played its part in an historic moment. Tharaud acknowledges the solace of music in the face of tragedy and grief. “As a performer, I can be a bandaid, that is to say that by playing the music of Bach, I can make people forget for a few seconds about pain and suffering. If I can be a balm through music, dress a wound, I have a reason to live.”
In the presence of the French president François Hollande and the families of the victims of the Friday 13th attacks, French musicians gave their response to the tragedy, as part of the memorial ceremony held this morning at Les Invalides in Paris.
Pianist Alexandre Tharaud, Paris born and bred, accompanied soprano Natalie Dessay in a moving rendition of Perlimpinpin by iconic French chanteuse Barbara.
The 21-year-old Paris-born cellist Edgar Moreau played Bach's Suite for Solo Cello in D Minor.
The ceremony was broadcast on France2.
The French soprano Natalie Dessay needs no introduction in London, where she has commanded the stage of Covent Garden in productions including La Fille du Régiment. Londoners will have the chance to hear her tomorrow night in more intimate mode at the Barbican, in an inspired programme of French mélodies and German lieder.
Her Barbican programme on 2 October includes miniature jewels by Fauré and Duparc from her new album Fiançailles Pour Rire (A Betrothal for Laughs), which she says is devoted entirely to "lyrical romantic songs...all about love and passion".
Her partner on the album, as in recital, is French pianist Philippe Cassard. In interivew with Classica magazine this month, Dessay described her duo partner as "one of the people who is closest to me. We work, we laugh, we travel, and we never get tired of one another.
"Without him, I might have never sang mélodies. He brought me the complete songs of Debussy...he said he only wanted to play them with me, and since I'm susceptible to flattery, I said yes."
Fiançailles Pour Rire is out now. Natalie Dessay and Philippe Cassard are at the Barbican Friday 2 October.
"I've rediscovered the song recital," declares Natalie Dessay of her latest album Fiançailles Pour Rire (A Betrothal for Laughs), an eclectic collection of French mélodies united by the themes of love, marriage, and everything in between.
Her partner in crime: pianist Philippe Cassard, with whom she previously recorded a critically acclaimed Debussy album. The guests at the wedding: the Quatuor Ebène, and Natalie's husband, baritone Laurent Naouri.
Together, these very French artists found a fresh approach to French song. "Natalie doesn't make a thing about rolling her 'r's!" jokes Cassard. The songs are "all about love and passion - that's what Natalie wanted," he explains. Among the best-loved mélodies on the programme are Fauré's Mandoline, Spleen and Clair de Lune, and Henri Duparc's Extase.
The album, which Cassard says is "devoted entirely to extremely lyrical romantic songs", takes its name from the cycle of six songs by Poulenc featured in this recital, Fiançailles Pour Rire (A Bretrothal for Laughs). "Passionate love is the central theme of this poetry. We had a great deal of fun, with such serious masterpieces!"
Dessay and Cassard agree: "These are really steamy poems, very daring!"
Fiançailles Pour Rire is out now.
Presenting the 2014 Best of Warner Classics & Erato (Classica Label of the Year) on Spotify.
We marveled at Joyce DiDonato's "creamy tones effortlessly whipped into endless, kaleidoscopic threads of melody" (The Sunday Times) on her Italian opera recital Stella di Napoli, which made several major Best of 2014 lists.
The extraordinary coloratura soprano Diana Damrau delivered her long-awaited first recording of Lucia di Lammemoor, while French Handel specialist Emmanuelle Haïm enlisted a stunning British cast of soloists for her highly-praised Messiah: "Their Hallelujah is magnificent...One of the most dramatic and exciting Messiahs in recent memory.” (The Sunday Times)
Catch up on these unmissable releases and discover the year's finest classical offerings in our Best of 2014 Spotify Playlist.
The year also brought two of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken at the famous Abbey Road studios: Herbert von Karajan's complete orchestral and choral recordings for EMI, painstakingly remastered over 100 CDs for the 25th anniversary of the maestro's death; and the most talked about boxed set of the year: the Maria Callas Remastered Edition.
Wishing you a tuneful holiday season ready for all the musical surprises coming up in 2015!
Well, you can't get more French than that. This year's Bastille Day celebrations mingle with the centenary of WWI, and there will be dancing in the streets with the annual Concert de Paris. There on the Champs de Mars, under the Eiffel Tower, the ever-chic French soprano Natalie Dessay will sing music by Michel Legrand from the classic film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg).
On this occasion she performs J’avais tellement peur de ne pas te trouver in duet with her husband Laurent Naouri, but her album Elle et Lui, in duo with Legrand himself, was one of last year's bestsellers in France.
Just before the customary fireworks at 11pm, Dessay's appearance crowns a varied program of orchestral and operatic blockbusters including Berlioz's La Marseillaise, Lakmé's Flower Duet and Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, with the Orchestra National de France and guests Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca. A night to remember.
Hector BERLIOZ : La Damnation de Faust Marche de Rákóczy
Gaetano DONIZETTI : L'Elixir d'amour "Una furtiva lagrima"
avec Lawrence Brownlee
Gaetano DONIZETTI : La fille du régiment "Salut à la France"
avec Olga Peretyatko et le Chœur de Radio France
Georges BIZET : Carmen "Avec la garde montante"
avec la Maîtrise de Radio France
Giuseppe Verdi : Aida "Celeste Aida"
Avec Piotr Beczala
Gottfried Heinrich STÖLZEL "Bist du bei mir"
avec Natalie Dessay et Laurent Naouri
Edward ELGAR : Pomp and circumstance "Marche n°1"
avec le Chœur de Radio France
Gaetano DONIZETTI : La fille du régiment "Ah mes amis" – "Pour mon âme"
avec Lawrence Brownlee
Léo DELIBES : Lakmé Duo des fleurs "Viens Malika…")
avec Olga Peretyatko et Elina Garanca
Giacomo PUCCINI : Tosca "E lucevan le stelle"
avec Piotr Beczala
Richard WAGNER : Die Walküre La chevauchée des Walkyries
Umberto GIORDANO : André Chenier "La mama morta"
avec Anna Netrebko
Jacques OFFENBACH : La Grande duchesse de Gerolstein "Ah que j’aime les militaires"
avec Elīna Garanča et le Chœur de Radio France
John WILLIAMS : Star wars
Michel LEGRAND : Les Parapluies de Cherbourg "J’avais tellement peur de ne pas te trouver"
avec Natalie Dessay et Laurent Naouri
Piotr Ilyitch TCHAÏKOVSKI: Ouverture 1812 (Final)
Hector BERLIOZ : La Marseillaise
Piotr Beczala, tenor
Natalie Dessay, soprano
Lawrence Brownlee, tenor
Elina Garanča, mezzo soprano
Laurent Naouri, baritone
Anna Netrebko, soprano
Olga Peretyatko, soprano
Chœur de Radio France
Orchestre National de France
The team at Warner Classics have been swept off our feet by the sounds of summer and the excitement of the FIFA World Cup. And France is off to a promising start after winning its first match 3-0 against Honduras.
Erato's soundtrack to the World Cup features two new releases from French artists who have been seduced by the rhythms of Brazil.
Natalie Dessay is one of four stunning women on Rio-Paris, a heady blend of Brazilian and French hits for singers with guitar, including Villa-Lobos' soaring Cantilena. She is joined by guitarist Liat Cohen and two actress-singers, Agnès Jaoui and Helena Noguerra, in this encounter between France and Brazil.
Meanwhile, the Ébène Quartet has enlisted stylish chanteuse Stacey Kent for the album Brazil: fresh, surprising arrangements from Jobim to Sting and Stevie Wonder, plus the endlessly hummable themesong from the Terry Gilliam classic Brazil.
France claimed World Cup victory vs Brazil back in 1998. The team's next match in this year's festivities will be June 20 against Switzerland.
What does Brazilian music mean to you as a guitarist?
Liat Cohen: I’m Israeli but the nature of the classical guitar is perfectly suited to playing South American music. I’ve played with Brazilian guitarists like Toninho Ramos and Luiz de Aquino. I think somehow the character and mentality in Israel and Tel Aviv have much in common with the Brazilian character. The Brazilian people have been through a lot; we have influences from Europe, as well as the sand, the beach, the joy of life... So I identify with the culture as well as the music.
Is that why you decided to release a Brazilian disc?
I have recorded and toured music from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia… And for many years I wanted to record Villa-Lobos, but I didn’t want to record just the obvious choices like the Preludes and the Chôros. I wanted something a little more original, and I found it with this project.
What connects the two cities of Rio-Paris musically?
For centuries now, composers and artists of the guitar have been attracted to Paris. And me too — I found myself here 20 years ago as a student! French composers like Darius Milhaud through to songwriters like Claude Nougaro and Georges Moustaki were very open to the Latin influence, and vice versa: Villa-Lobos is for the guitar what Chopin is for the piano. For the album we miraculously found the scores for two unpublished songs by Villa-Lobos setting the poetry of de La Fontaine and Victor Hugo that show his love for the French language.
Which is why it’s interesting to have one of France’s most beloved sopranos singing Jobim’s Aguas de Março in the French-language version by Moustaki alongside Modinha in Portuguese. How did the three singers — Natalie Dessay, Agnès Jaoui and Helena Noguerra — get involved in Rio-Paris?
I had wanted to work with Natalie for a long time; we’ve known each other for many years and I’ve always admired her work. We were searching different types of repertoire, and when I suggested the possibility of Villa-Lobos’ beautiful Cantilena from the Bachianas No. 5 she said, “You know, I’ve never sung it!” We knew right away that it was the perfect starting point. That took us on a journey of Brazilian music with Villa-Lobos, Baden Powell, Jobim, Gismonti…
Agnès Jaoui had already devoted a superb disc to South American music, and Helena Noguerra’s mother tongue is Portuguese, so it’s a great mix.
It's a great all-female line-up when the guitar is often thought of as quite a masculine instrument.
It would be a little clichéd to think of the macho flamenco guitarist when there have been great female classical stars like Sharon Isbin and Ida Presti. Personally I had never played in an all-female group like this, but this project demanded these particular three voices. Making music together, understanding each other and laughing together in the studio, there was a lot of emotiona and a lot of fun — and it's still going on in the concerts!
On Rio-Paris you play a few brilliant solo pieces by Villa-Lobos, who was himself a fine virtuoso guitarist; did playing songs pose some different challenges?
As a classical guitarist it’s not at all my usual style. In technical terms, it’s not a problem, but the rhythms are so particular. A piece like Desafinando: technically it’s very simple but rhythmically when you try to play the bossa nova offbeat and make it sound breezy, without any effort — that was the big challenge for me.
But we wanted to show a vision of different styles of Brazilian music, starting with classical and going on to more popular music and jazz. With Brazilian music you have this melange that’s not possible with most other music. But thanks to the guitar, we can do it on Rio-Paris. To juggle between these songs and styles — to see the differences and the connections with the rhythms — it’s an exciting musical journey.
Launched with an international concert tour - still ongoing - the CD is a big hit and has been No.1 in classical sales in France since its release date (Oct 21) and No.7 in the pop charts the first week of release.
Find out more about the album here.
Based on the stories of the influential German writer ETA Hoffmann, filled with magic, dark humour and grotesquerie, Les Contes d’Hoffmann has a complex structure with three acts in ‘flashback’ as the drunken poet Hoffmann recalls three unhappy love affairs.
To find out more click here
Erato /Warner Classics’ DVD catalogue already contains several characteristically stylish and imaginative productions by the French opera director Laurent Pelly: Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne and La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, Massenet’s Cendrillon, Donizetti’s La Fille du régiment, Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Handel’s Giulio Cesare. The last three all star Natalie Dessay, and now she and Pelly are reunited once again, this time for Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, staged at Barcelona’s Liceu opera house in early 2013.
The opera itself has a complex history too, since Offenbach died before completing it, and it exists in a number of editions. This performance used the version prepared by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck, which has been welcomed for its dramatic power. As the Los Angeles Daily News said: “Kaye’s edition clarifies, intensifies, redefines and transforms Hoffmann into a more unified and ultimately more powerful work.”
Pelly’s production looks unusually dark and sober, while the monumental elements of the decor move smoothly around the singers, dominating them in sinister fashion. The staging has also been in seen in San Francisco, where it was greeted thus by Opera Today: “Pelly’s production is magnificent, making E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short horror stories into a dream fantasy where anything real becomes surreal, where anything physical is ephemeral ... Images appear and disappear without a logic, as stream-of-unconscious. Pelly’s conceit is based on the Olympia episode ... where magic dissolves into stagecraft when Olympia [an animated doll rather than a real woman] is revealed as a manipulation of three stagehands. We then become conscious that the continuous flow of images is effected by the most basic level of stage mechanics — men pushing scenery and men pulling ropes. And we become even more amazed by the intelligence behind the when and how of it all. It is a diabolical staging in an opera where there is nothing but diabolical manipulation of ... nothing.”
Natalie Dessay takes the role of Antonia, Hoffmann’s beloved in the most substantial and tragic of the three episodes, bringing her delicate presence and immaculate French style to the character of a young, physically fragile woman whose talent – singing – is finally fatal to her. The automaton Olympia is sung by the charming coloratura soprano Kathleen Kim, who rose to fame in the role at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Hoffmann’s third love, the Venetian courtesan Olympia is embodied by the sensual mezzo-soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya, and his loyal friend Nicklausse by another mezzo-soprano, the elegant Canadian singer Michèle Losier. Hoffmann’s nemesis, who takes the form of four different characters, is incarnated by the superb French bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, while Hoffmann himself is the young American tenor Michael Spyres, who has shot to prominence over
recent seasons with his prowess in 19th century French opera and bel canto. The conductor is Stéphane Denève, of whom the British critic David Nice, writing for The Arts Desk, recently said: “I can honestly say there’s no conductor alive I’d rather hear in French music.”
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