CD Review: Paradis sur Terre: A French Songbook

By William Dart

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Nicky Spence's impassioned performance of Andre Caplet's 1917 song-cycle, Les Prieres inevitably takes on new resonances, after an 86-year-old French priest was slaughtered in his church.

The Scottish tenor celebrates the life-embracing world of French song on his new album Paradis sur Terre. And what a gloriously all-inclusive paradise it is, accommodating the deeply spiritual reflections of Caplet alongside the emotionally charged outpourings of Lili Boulanger, complete with bold quotes from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

Later, we move from the intense rhapsodies that Debussy fashioned from three Paul Verlaine poems to the artless, light-as-air melodies of Cecile Chaminade.

Spence catches each turn of phrase and change of mood, only showing a slight strain in the Chaminade; throughout, Malcolm Martineau lends his inestimable support at the Steinway. Aucklanders who recall the tenor as a heroic soloist in last year's A Child of Our Time, may be surprised at his skill in conveying the all-important intimacy of this music.

A booklet essay by Hugh Macdonald points out that these songs were not intended for unforgiving concert halls, but rather for the smaller salon, where sophisticated hostesses would enlist eloquent singers to entertain their guests.

Why not then let this album provide you with just over an hour of melodious escape, rejoicing in the wonderful range of experiences and emotions that some of the darker forces in the world today would deny us?

Paradis sur Terre: A French Songbook (Chandos, through Ode Records)
Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Escape for an hour of French elegance with Scottish tenor

- NZ Herald

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