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For their second Warner Classics album of French song – a follow-up to the Debussy CD they released in 2011 – soprano Natalie Dessay and pianist Philippe Cassard have adopted the title of Francis Poulenc’s song cycle Fiançailles pour rire (A betrothal for fun). Poulenc’s compact, charming and touching cycle, composed in 1939 to poems by Louise de Vilmorin, is heard alongside some of the best-loved mélodies in the repertoire, such as Fauré’s ‘Après un rêve’, ‘Mandoline’, and ‘En sourdine’, Duparc’s ‘Invitation au voyage’ and ‘Au pays où se fait la guerre’, and Chausson’s ‘Le temps des lilas’ and ‘Chanson perpetuelle’. On this new disc Nathalie Dessay and her regular duo partner Philippe Cassard also enjoy the company of some old friends: in Chausson’s ‘Chanson perpetuelle’ the soprano is joined by the Quatuor Ebène and by the bass-baritone Laurent Naouri – who is, as it happens, her husband. Naouri also duets with her on the final track of the album, Poulenc’s haunting ‘Colloque’, a setting of words by Paul Valéry.
“As one might expect…from an artist who once styled herself an actress first and a singer second, Dessay can be idiosyncratic: if you value sound over sense in this repertoire, you might need a period of adjustment before her strengths become apparent…Cassard is wonderfully elegant, refined and super-subtle throughout…stick with the disc if you're unsure of it at first hearing - it takes its time to fully yield its secrets and get under your skin.” Gramophone