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Layla Claire: "Songbird"

CD Button Scarfone, piano. Texts, no translations. ATMA ACD2 2754

Critics Choice Button 1015 

THE WORD “RADIANT” might have been coined to describe Layla Claire’s soprano, one of the most heartwarmingly beautiful around. Combine that with flawless diction that obviates the need for printed texts; genuine, unforced emotion; and sensitive but unfussy phrasing, and the result is pure listening pleasure. Claire’s sparkling performance of these French, German and English songs, chosen just because they’re personal favorites, is even more remarkable because she was seven and a half months pregnant at the time of recording. 

Gounod’s “Viens! Les gazons sont verts” and Wolf’s “Ich hab in Penna einen Liebsten” are irresistibly ebullient. Claire mines a more probing, reflective tone for Chausson’s “Dans la forêt du charme et de l’enchantement,” while Quilter’s “Now sleeps the crimson petal” is nostalgic without being sentimental. Strauss’s “Epheu” and Liszt’s “Der Fischerknabe” offer moments of exquisite control. Brahms’s “Regenlied” is haunting and rich, and his “Unbewegte laue Luft” undergoes a transformation from mellow poignancy to sensual invitation. In Claire’s voice, Purcell’s stalwart “Music for a While,” often soporific, becomes active, driven by a seemingly urgent need to make music. 

She skates effortlessly over the scales and arpeggios in Gounod’s gently rocking “Sérénade,” tapping delicately into chest voice, and the butterflies of Chausson’s “Papillons” take flight with brilliance. Claire’s Debussy offerings, “Romance” and “Il pleure dans mon coeur,” are lush and heartfelt. Barber’s “St. Ita’s Vision” captures the passionate rapture of devotion. Bizet’s “Chanson d’avril” is a little too heavy, as is Britten’s “Seascape.” Fauré’s “Le secret” offers a better balance of suppleness and sheen, and Argento’s “Spring” is like a refreshing, cool shower. 

Pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone is a supportive, unobtrusive partner throughout. This lovely collection fulfills the hope Claire expresses in her liner notes—that music will remain a bright spot of joy in a tumultuous world.  —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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