|Michel Legrand, Natalie Dessay. Photo Credit: Simon Fowler/ Warner Classics|
CD Review: Natalie Dessay / Michel Legrand – Entre Elle et Lui
(Erato 934145 2. CD review by Sebastian Scotney)
Take one look at Michel Legrand‘s extraordinary career, and you start asking yourself the question: what have you been doing the rest of your life? The French composer/ songwriter/ pianist, now 81, has not only produced around 140 film scores, won three Oscars (out of eleven nominations), worked with Miles Davis, composed the kind of songs like Windmills of Your Mind or The Summer Knows which stay whirling in the mind, he has also just written an autobiography, and taken on a major touring project.
He is currently doing concerts with Natalie Dessay. The opera singer, probably the most complete and adaptable French singing actress of her generation is taking a ‘sabbatical’ from opera, described in more detail in this interview. She was originally trained as an actress, and on this album she inhabits many different roles and personalities with total conviction and persuasiveness.
The album Entre Elle et Lui is a compendium of eighteen familiar and unfamiliar songs. There are three from that magical Summer Holiday-meets-West Side Story 1967 movie by Jacques Demy Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, including the rapid-fire duet for the sisters Chanson des Jumelles, with as guest singer the characterful Patricia Petitbon. Vocally the two are uncannily similar, it’s a very clever piece of casting. Another guest vocalist is Dessay’s husband Laurent Naouri on an anthemic treatment of the famous Guy-Genevieve duet from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.
For someone not completely in awe of Legrand, the songs in English can come across as cloyingly sentimental. They are also longer. What are you Doing the Rest of Your Life, the longest track comes in at just under eight minutes; that’s a lot of saccharine to take at one sitting. Legrand and Dessay also do some vocal duetting. Their version of Les Moulins de Mon Coeur has improvised freshness about it.
Legrand as pianist is great to hear, he plays with swing, drive, panache, but does have the occasional splashy moment. His regular rhythm section of bassist Pierre Boussaguet and Laurent Naizeau are extremely sympathetic, although I wondered in places how much they could hear on their monitors of what else was going on. Natalie Dessay mostly comes across on the album as astonishingly lively and fresh, although she has an energy lapse in La Chanson to words by Claude Nougaro – that song just sounds as if one of the recording sessions might have gone on for too long.
One genuine highlight is the song (completely unfamiliar to me) Le Rouge et Le Noir to words by Claude Nougaro, describing an assignation in a flop-house. It’s a clever and tight song alternating the words ‘rouge’ and ‘noir’, and with a punchline playing on the double meaning of the word ‘noir’ in French to mean not just ‘black’ but also ‘drunk’. The animal howl-growl which Dessay produces at the start of the last stanza/ blues chorus is one of the most extraordinary vocal sounds I’ve ever heard. Another joy is the song immediately after it, the Couperin-inspired homily Les Conseils de la Fée des Lilas as sung by Delphine Seyrig in the film Peau d’Ane.
For the fans of Legrand this is a central, indispensible document. As Richard Morrison pointed out in his review for the Times, it will also make great present for a francophone or francophile.
The Dessay/ Legrand tour will reach the UK for one date on 4th May 2014 at the London Palladium.