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Recording of the Week, Mozart and Strauss Lieder from Sabine Devieilhe & Mathieu Pordoy

Mozart and Strauss Lieder; Devieilhe, PordoyAlmost ten years after her extraordinary album The Weber Sisters (celebrating the virtuosic arias which Mozart wrote for his wife Constanze and her siblings Aloysia and Josepha), French coloratura soprano Sabine Devieilhe returns to Mozart for her first Lieder album, which presents an astutely-chosen selection of his songs alongside works by Richard Strauss. The results are predictably glorious: over the past decade, Devieilhe has taken Mozart’s Queen of the Night and Strauss’s Zerbinetta and Sophie into her repertoire, and her deep understanding of both composers’ musical language is writ large in every phrase.

The voice has also taken on new colours and textures since that last Mozart album, and it’s wonderful to hear these given free rein in repertoire which showcases the warm middle of Devieilhe’s instrument as much as that star-blazing top. Loosely connected by the themes of childhood, flowers and evening, the programme suits her small-but-perfectly-formed soprano down to the ground: she wisely eschews the heaviest Strauss Lieder (Morgen!, for instance, is the only Op. 27 song on the menu), but there’s more than enough focus and resonance in the lower register for middle-weight songs like Die Nacht and Winterweihe to come across beautifully.

Waldseligkeit, too, is a highlight: Devieilhe not only possesses enough vocal amplitude to fill out Strauss’s long lines here, but also achieves some magical effects on sustained notes by shading her tone in response to harmonic shifts in the piano-part. And when her trademark coloratura and glittering high notes do come out to play, she simply knocks you sideways: the Zerbinetta-ish Amor (from the Brentano-Lieder) is done with dazzling insouciance, and the top C at the climax of Kling! literally raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

Devieilhe’s partner is the Frenchman Mathieu Pordoy, whose imaginative, responsive playing caught my ear a couple of years ago when he joined Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka on her French song recital Voyage; to my knowledge, this is only his second commercial album, but on the evidence here labels and artists should be queuing up to record with him.

Like all front-rank collaborative pianists, Pordoy’s interpretative decisions always seem tailor-made for his partner’s vocal resources (as a comparison of the present album with Voyage will attest) – and over the course of this programme you’d swear he was playing at least three different instruments. Mozart’s Komm, liebe Zither (delivered with consummate charm and poise by both parties) sounds for all the world like it’s being performed on a very early pianoforte, whilst in Strauss’s Waldseligkeit he conjures a smoky, muted colour suggestive of an Erard, and in the more exuberant songs like Kling! and Nichts! there’s the sort of forthright brightness you’d associate with a modern Steinway. (The booklet-notes, alas, give no indication of what instrument he’s actually playing).

Pordoy and Devieilhe both do a wonderful job of emphasising the kinship between Mozart and Strauss’s approach to song-making, bringing an almost Classical clarity and elegance to the earlier Strauss Lieder and subtly spotlighting the harmonic surprises in Mozart songs like Einsamkeit and Abendempfindung. (Both texts which one could easily imagine Strauss setting, these – and the latter makes for a very apposite ‘Last Song’, given its spiritual kinship with Strauss’s Im Abendrot).

Other highlights include a gently radiant account of Morgen! (made all the more unmissable by the gorgeously nuanced contribution of violinist Vilde Frang), an Allerseelen which genuinely brought tears to my eyes, and an irresistible interpretation of Mozart’s Das Kinderspiel. This adorable little song about children at play showcases so much of what makes Devieilhe special, not least her ability to play the ingénue without lapsing into irritating winsomeness: complete with excited little in-breaths, barely-suppressed giggles and just a hint of a yawn as bedtime beckons, it’s enchanting stuff. (The wordless coda from Devieilhe’s young son Lucien, accompanied by Pordoy in tinkling music-box mode, might tip things into Turn of the Screw territory for some, but personally I found it charming).

All in all, this is a very special song-recital indeed, remarkable as much for Pordoy’s contribution as for Devieilhe’s; if you want to be charmed, amused, thrilled and moved to tears in the space of an hour then you need look no further.

Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Mathieu Pordoy (piano)

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