Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Favorite-Record Profile #3: Jan DeGaetani sings Ravel's "Chansons medicasses"

LP: Nonesuch H-71355 (1978)
CD re-issue: Nonesuch 9 71355-2 (1992)
Ravel: Chansons medicasses (1925-26)
Sonata for Violin & Cello (1920-22)
Sites auriculaires for 2 pianos (1897)
Frontispiece for Five Hands (1918)
Jan DeGaetani (soprano)
Paul Dunkel (flute)/Gilbert Kalish (piano)
Paul Jacobs (piano)/Teresa Sterne (piano)
Isidore Cohen (violin)/Timothy Eddy (cello)

There have been so many exceptional recordings of Ravel's 1926 vocal-chamber masterpiece Chansons medicasses over the years, it seems almost ungracious to talk about only one. From the richly colorful, powerfully expressive Jessye Norman (CBS MK 39023 (1984)) to the ravishingly sensuous Sarah Walker (Virgin 5 61427 2 (1997))  and the delicately lyrical Magdalena Kozena (DG B0002124-02 (2004)) the work has fared extraordinarily well on record. To be sure, this work's discography is a teeming embarrassment of riches, but no performance has found its way so indelibly into my imagination than Jan DeGaetani's 1978 reading for Nonesuch, re-issued on CD in 1992.

DeGaetani's tone is enchantingly limpid, creamy and smooth, her expression artfully understated, eschewing vocal excess and gratuitous melodrama. Though I might give the nod to Norman for her more emotionally intense interpretation of the second song, Méfiez-vous des blancs, DeGaetani's exquisitely seductive lyricism wins out in the sensuous outer movements. The accompanying artists achieve a marvelous synergy with the soloist, avoiding the familiar temptation to over-interpret Ravel's deceptively simple lines, smooth over or "prettify" the natural rough edges in the score. The late-analog recorded sound is quite good, with an intimate ambiance just right for a work of this scale.

The delightfully atmospheric, cerebrally engaging Sonata for Violin & Cello from 1922 provides an almost perfect compliment to the Chansons, and is played with exceptional artistry here. The CD re-issue also includes a pair of small-scale works for two pianos, which are well played and serve their function as filler quite nicely.

Yet another treasurable disc, well worth seeking out. (Note that ArkivMusic.com has made it available in their on-going program of notable re-issues, here.)

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