Almost two months ago Erato released Rio-Paris, a recording of four French female musicians interpreting several different styles of Brazilian music. The Amazon.com Web page for this CD describes it as soprano Natalie Dessay’s “new album;” but, while Dessay is far from a “bit player,” she really is not the center of attention on this recording. That honor goes to the classical guitarist Liat Cohen, born in Israel and now based in France. She is the only artist to perform on all seventeen of the album’s tracks, three of which are solo compositions by Heitor Villa-Lobos, whose executions are as expressive as they are technically impressive.
Indeed, Villa-Lobos is the other “center of attention” on this recording. His compositions account for six of the seventeen tracks, and all of the vocal work on those tracks is by Dessay. These include the familiar Aria movement from the fifth of the Bachianas Brasileiras compositions. This was originally scored for soprano and an orchestra of at least eight cellos, but Villa-Lobos himself composed the alternative guitar accompaniment for the Aria movement. Less familiar are two songs, one taken from Jean de La Fontaine’s verse settings of classical fables, the Opus 10 “L’oiseau blessé d’une flèche” (the bird wounded by an arrow) and the other based on Victor Hugo’s poem “L’enfance,” the Opus 45 “Les Mères” (the mothers).
Equally important, however, is vocalist Helena Noguerra, Belgian-born but of Portuguese descent. She takes the lead on the three selections by Antônio Carlos Jobim, “Les Eaux de Mars” (waters of March) and “Desafinado,” although she is joined by both Dessay and Agnès Jaoui for some contrapuntal give-and-take in the former. (Jaoui, who is both actress and singer, does not take any solos on this album.) While Noguerra is not Brazilian, her voice has all of the necessary dark tones that capture the more popular side of this album’s repertoire.
It seems appropriate to write about this album on a day that has pretty much fashioned itself the national holiday for making too much noise (not to mention eating too many hot dogs). It also seems equally valuable to be able to associate Rio with quietude in the middle of World Cup madness. Most important, however, is that it provides those who enjoy the guitar repertoire to appreciate some of the many diverse talents that Cohen brings to her instrument.