American soprano Barbara Hendricks and pianist Michael Dalberto collaborate on a strong collection of songs by Gabriel Faure. Hendricks includes the entire song cycle "La bonne chanson" from 1894 as well as the shorter Op. 21, 23 and 27 sets and some famous individual songs, such as "Apres un reve", "The rose of Isfahan" and "At the edge of the water." The selections are well chosen and contain many beautiful songs by Faure. The disc emphasizes Faure's earlier 19th-century work and omits some of his more abstruse, difficult songs from the 20th century.
Hendricks has a lovely voice and clearly has a connection to the songs, which she takes from a more dramatic perspective. Performance negatives include a tendency to over-sing the higher passages. An example of this is in "Fleur jete" (track 10), which Hendricks attacks as almost an operatic number; I think a more understated approach would have served better. Dalberto tends to emphasize percussive aspects of the piano part, while I'd prefer a gentler, lyrical interpretation. However, Dalberto does very well in the concluding "La bonne chanson." I don't think I've heard a better piano performance of the 7th song from the cycle ("Donc, ce sera", track 26). This may be heresy but I enjoyed Hendricks and Dalberto doing "La bonne chanson" more than my other recordings, the highly-regarded recordings by Charles Panzera and by Gerard Souzay. The cycle is very musical, more structurally delineated and clear than these other two versions, resulting in what for me was a more interesting listening experience. The structural clarity was appreciated as I find this cycle to be quite difficult from a listening perspective.
So this is a five-star performance, with an outstanding "La bonne chanson" and some lovely singing off-set by some flaws. My favorite collection of Faure songs continues to be another EMI release from Frederica von Stade, but the item under review here is a solid, satisfying CD. (By the way, if you like Hendricks' singing, make sure to get her doing Bizet's "Pearl Fishers" with John Aler.)