Philippe Cassard, piano
There is more shade than light in Natalie Dessay’s album devoted to Franz Schubert’s Lieder, an opinion that has nothing to do with a certain prejudice against French singers performing German repertoire, but that has its roots in a matter of temperament.
It is not because Dessay sings badly that this album fails to arouse enthusiasm because there is nothing to blame for what concerns the technical aspects, but unfortunately Dessay’s “thin” voice is not the best to exhaust the expressive richness of Schubert’s Lieder and many of them sound apathetic and lifeless, as it is the case of Gretchen am Spinnrade (this result is due also to pianist Philippe Cassard, who does little or nothing to enliven the atmosphere). Her lack of effort in the performance gives the impression that these compositions theoretically suits her well and in support of this opinion can be remembered fine characterizations as the sweetness of Nachtviolen or the serenity of Im Frühling, but from this to a first-rate performance there is still an abyss.
The only features that improve the fate of the album are Dessay’s overall correctness, her soft vocal line with some fine diminuendi and the great importance she attributes to the words, which implies a deep knowledge of the text and reminds you that she is a Germanist – but these aspects are more helpful in revealing the talent of the singer, which anyway emerges more easily in other repertoires, rather than benefiting the present performance. These are features that prevent the album from being a total failure, but they alone do not compensate for the lack of other, more important things.
The outcome is that Schubert is a correct but colourless album that does not add anything to the interpretation of the Lieder and that can be judged with less severity only as an experiment of a well-established soprano that has already achieved excellence with other composers and in other roles.