This album of songs, some recorded for the first time is definitely a collaboration between winger and pianist. It is the scholarship and investigation of Philippe Cassard that provided the impetus for this recording that takes Natalie Dessay away from her usual coloratura and Baroque roles and places her in the position of a chanteuse for a satisfying recital. Still, this is very much a pet project of Cassard's, and the real coup is the presentation of four unpublished songs Cassard discovered in the archives of an arts patron. The most extraordinary of these is Les Elfes, Debussy's now longest song, a perfumed, skittish setting of Leconte de Lisle's Erlking-tinged romantic ballad, but quite frankly they are all gems, with a wonderful salon feel to Romance, and brooding, almost Schubertian turmoil in L'Archet.
Dessay is at the peak of her career and while her place is most comfortably on the opera stage, she has stepped on the concert stage with relative ease. Together Dessay and Cassard offer 13 songs: Clair de Lune. Nuit d'etoiles. Pantomime. Pierrot. Apparition. En Sourdine. Fête galante. Romance. Les Cloches. Rondel chinois. La Romance d'Ariel. Regret. Le Matelot qui tombe à l'eau. Coquetterie posthume. L'Archet. Romance. Les Elfes. Flots, Palmes in which they are joined by Catherine Michel, harp, and the mini-oratorio La Damoiselle élue blissfully delivered by Dessay with Karine Deshayes, mezzo soprano and the chamber version with the Jeune Choeur de Paris conducted by Henri Chalet. As ne critic has said, `The choir and mezzo are flawless, and without orchestra to fight against, Dessay takes her fragile sound down to a delectable whisper. In many ways this is the highlight of the disc and supplements the classic orchestral versions with Victoria de los Angeles or, for a similar vulnerability to the singing, Ileana Cotrubas.'
Though this is a new direction for Dessay, and that alone can explain the at times odd decisions she makes vocally as she has the stage to herself independent of operatic trappings, her crystalline and supple coloratura serve her well. This is an art song collector's prize and should find a rather satisfied audience beyond the usual scope of Natalie Dessay's current operatic following. Grady Harp, June 12