Aquarelles: Debussy & Hahn by Siobhan Stagg & Noga Quartet
Admired for her beautiful lyric voice and impressive vocal range, Debussy dedicated his song cycle Ariettes oubliées (‘forgotten songs’) to Scottish soprano Mary Garden, for whom he also composed the role of Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande. Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg, who recently won a Green Room Award for her portrayal of that very same French operatic heroine, has lent her equally beautiful voice to the enchanting cycle. Like Garden, Stagg is as splendid singing Debussy’s art songs as she is performing his operatic music. Rather than the original piano accompaniment, Berlin-based Noga Quartet – whose sound world is apt for Debussy’s impressionist music – joins Stagg in this new recording for Challenge Classics.
In ‘Chevaux de bois’ (‘Wooden horses’), Stagg effortlessly throws her voice around Debussy’s frolicking music as she describes a joyous child’s carousel ride. Languorous ‘Il pleure dans mon coeur’ (‘Tears fall in my heart’) reveals another side to her voice: deep, luscious, and able to unfurl a beautiful high note with utmost delicacy, to eventually reveal that same controlled richness of her lower register.
Bookending Ariettes oubliées are Hahn’s String Quartet No. 2 in F major and Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor – the former previously unknown to me. I adore Hahn’s songs, and it was a treat to acquaint myself with his chamber music. Composed in 1943, towards the end of his life, Hahn’s second quartet bears the hallmarks of its French predecessors: elegant, sensual, and at times tonally ambiguous. More familiar is Debussy’s quartet in G minor, his sole contribution to the genre, which shifts between moments of exuberance and great darkness. The young members of the Noga Quartet give fine, highly nuanced performances of both the Hahn and Debussy, and all the while possessing the unity of a mature ensemble. A fabulous recording.