Understated passion and the perfectly-chosen single note: these hallmarks of the French 19th-century mélodie were mirrored in Véronique Gens’s Wigmore Hall recital.
One could feel her familiarity with these exquisitely-crafted pieces in miniatures like Chausson’s ‘Le Charme’ and ‘Les papillons’, but the programme was most interesting in those passages when understated passion became, if far from overstated, at least a little more explicit. We heard an energetic delivery of Hahn’s ‘Quand je fus pris au pavillon’ and an intense account of his ‘Le rossignol des lilas’, both of them highlights.
There was drama and impetus in Chausson’s ‘La chanson bien douce’, too, and even if Hahn’s Etudes latines refer to the classical world rather than to the Venezuela of his birth – this pupil of Gounod, Saint-Saëns and Massenet had become a Frenchman through and through – the tinge of emotion they display is nevertheless a little more overt, evinced both harmonically and in Gens’s performance.
Gens’s mellifluous controlled tones were certainly preferable to any harsher articulation, and if any soprano is rarely asked by this music to let it all hang out, then the pianist’s role is even more restrained, but Susan Manoff made her presence felt just sufficiently with sensitive support that complemented the singer.
Three encores covered two further great names of the mélodie, Fauré (‘Les roses d’Ispahan’) and Poulenc, as well as the less congruous if undeniably entertaining Offenbach.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- Wigmore Hall www.wigmore-hall.org.uk