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CD Review

Songs of the Americas

  • Songs by Alberto Ginastera, Heitor Villa-Lôbos, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Charles Ives, Malcolm Forsyth and Pierre Mercure
Lyne Comtois, mezzo-soprano
Marc Bourdeau, piano
Brioso BR-112 DDD 75:31
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Canadian mezzo Lyne Comtois sings thirty-six songs in all here, six each by Ginastera and Villa-Lôbos, seven each by Bernstein and Ives, four by Barber, and three each by Forsyth and Mercure. While the title of the disc suggests if not quite a uniformity in the repertory, then at least a certain (hemispheric?) kinship in it; but the idioms, as you might expect, are varied and the expressive range quite wide. Such variety is hardly a surprise when you consider the disc's offerings progress northerly from the hot climates of Ginastera and Villa-Lôbos to the moderate ones of the three Americans and then on to the colder region of the Canadians Forsyth (actually a transplant from South Africa) and Mercure. In addition, in first half of the disc we are given mostly mid-twentieth century music; in the latter part we look back to the turn of the century (Ives), then jump forward to the contemporary songs of Forsyth, which, it turns out, are reworkings of folk material supplied to the composer by the Métis, a French-Canadian people of mixed ancestry. This CD, then, offers quite a mixed bag.

Actually, I must confess a weakness for the Ginastera songs. I especially like Arrorró and Gato, the former (a lullaby), sung with a beguiling menace, the latter with an appropriately spicy spiritedness. Not that Comtois is any less effective in the Villa-Lôbos selections: the rather shallow sentiments of Lundú of The Marquise of Santos are rendered passionately, and the somewhat more substantive outpourings of The Guardian Angel and Classic Samba come across with commitment and idiomatic insight.

The Bernstein songs here are mainly directed toward a youthful audience. Comtois reasonably conveys the fairly direct expressive language, capturing that Bernsteinian magic that nearly elevates this composer's stature in this realm to that of Prokofieff. Her Barber is appropriately dramatic in A Nun Takes The Veil and her Ives is charming and nicely quirky in In The Alley, and effusively fervent in In The Mornin'. She fully captures the idiomatic soul of the Three Métis Songs (Song Of The Shoemaker, Farewell Of The Bride, Song Of The Frog Plain). All three are quite artistically compelling and as good as anything else on the disc. Dissidence, Psalm, and The Cry of Joy by Pierre Mercure are also eminently satisfying songs, performed movingly and convincingly by Comtois. Though, I love the Ginastera entries here, I'd have to say the Canadian songs are the pleasant surprise of the disc.

Comtois has a powerful, rich, but not thick-sounding, mezzo voice. Her instrument, in fact, is quite beautiful, but in some songs, she is perhaps a bit too powerful. However, with a such an imposing voice (hide your wine glasses!), it's hard to blame her for what is, in the end, only a minor overindulgence. Accompanist Marc Bourdeau partners her with just the right deferential touch throughout. Good notes, full texts, and excellent sound. Comtois is a talent to watch – and to hear!

Copyright © 1998, Robert Cummings