Adèle Charvet’s “Long Time Ago”

Long Time Ago cover

LONG TIME AGO / COPLAND: Zion’s Walls. Long Time Ago. Heart, We Will Forget Him. At the River. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Silent Noon. BRITTEN: Night Covers Up the Rigid Land. Johnny. Funeral Blues. BARBER: Solitary Hotel. The Desire for Hermitage. Nocturne. Sure of This Shining Night. The Secrets of the Old. ROVEN: Listening to Jazz. HEGGIE: The Moon’s the North Wind’s Cooky. Animal Passion. BOLCOM: Amor Waitin’. IVES: Remembrance. Songs My Mother Taught Me. FINZI: Two Lips. QUILTER: Weep You No More / Adèle Charvet, mezzo; Susan Manoff, pno / Alpha Classics 556

One may certainly think, as I did at first, that French mezzo Adèle Charvet was being tongue-in-cheek with the title of this album since so many of the composers herein are fairly modern (even Britten), but you have to take the generation gap into account. For us Baby Boomers, Charles Ives, Vaughan Williams and Britten all died during our lifetimes, but Britten, the last of those three to go, died in 1976 which is indeed a “long time ago.”

As a singer, Charvet has a rich, deep mezzo voice with a good timbre and, like so many modern singers, a slightly inform tone that spreads a bit on sustained notes, whether at loud or soft volume. But as the liner notes point out, she is “passionate about the song repertoire” and was awarded a prize for song at the Nadia and Lili Boulanger International Competition. She gives us a very nice recital here and, wonder of wonders, her diction is pretty good—not flawless or crystal clear, but I could actually make out some of the words she sang, which nowadays is a miracle. She can also toss off a coloratura run or two, as she shows off in Britten’s cabaret song, Johnny. But my favorite song on the album was definitely Glen Roven’s Listening to Jazz, an excellent piece that straddles the gap between classical and improvised music. It also helps that Charvet’s accompanist, Susan Manoff, can swing at the keyboard, and they carried this over to one of the best Jake Heggie songs I’ve ever heard, The Moon’s the North Wind’s Cooky, which includes an imitation of a little girl’s play song with jazz interludes. Charvet continues her “cabaret song” sequence with William Bolcom’s Amor and Waitin’, followed by yet another cabaret song by Britten, Funeral Blues. (I’m willing to bet you that Peter Pears urged him to write these songs for him; Pears loved pop and jazz tunes of the 1930s and ‘40s. One of his favorites, which he often sang at private gatherings, was Miss Otis Regrets.)

One of Charvet’s strengths, based at least on this CD, is her wonderful sense of programming. She follows her string of unusual and cabaret songs with a series of lyrical ones: Copland’s Heart, We Will Forget Him, Barber’s The Desire for Hermitage, Ives’ Remembrance and another Barber song, Nocturne. Once your ears get adjusted to her slight flutter, in fact, you’ll find that you will enjoy this album tremendously. Her last cabaret song, Madeleine Dring’s Song of a Nightclub Proprietess, comes right after yet another lyrical Barber song, The Secrets of the Old. As a rule, I can’t stand to listen to “clahsisscal” singers do jazz or cabaret songs because they sound too stiff, but Charvet and Manoff get the loose, swinging rhythm exactly right in all of them, and that makes all the difference in the world. (Yes, even such great American mezzos as Joyce di Donato and Susan Graham sound too stiff, thought I adore their singing in other repertoire.)

Due to her good taste in songs, excellent programming and fully vivid projection of the lyrics therein, I grew to absolutely love this disc as it progressed. The back cover says that the program is56 minutes long, but to be honest, I completely lost track of the time while listening to Charvet sing because she had so much to offer. If you are a lover of song recitals, particularly those in English, this is a CD you need to get!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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