It would usually be very hard to sit through a recital of twenty five songs by any one composer in a foreign language with almost all of the twenty five sung by one singer.

But in the case of the SOMM (somm cd O600) 2017 release of La vie d’une rose featuring songs by Jules Masenet, we deal with a varied selection of lyric gems superbly sung by the late lyric soprano Sally Silver, an exceptionally accomplished English artist who was accompanied in this recording by Richard Bonynge, and joined in several instances by mezzo-soprano Christine Tucci in duets.

Familiar as we all are with the operatic Massenet – Manon, Werther, Hérodiade, Thaïs, Cendrillon, Le Cid, Don Quichotte, we are surprised by the richness of the creations of the other Massenet: a composer of delightfully delicate songs, many for two voices, some belonging to groups and mini-cycles: Expressions lyriques, Poème d’amour, Poème d’avril

In one instance, the dramatic, partially-declaimed La dernière lettre de Werther à Charlotte utilizes some of the melodic and harmonic traits of Charlotte’s Air des Lettres from Massenet’s opera Werther. For the most part though the poetry belongs to the Romantic period of French literature spearheaded by Victor Hugo, whose Etre aimée and Le coffret d’ébène are compellingly adapted by Massenet.

Not all of the songs are lyrical in nature: there are dramatically stunners like Le petit Jésus and lively ditties like the Spanish inflected Nuit d’Espagne and Chanson pour Elle.

Ideally suited to supple voiced sopranos with a good command of French diction, these songs are well worth exploring by enterprising singers and deserving of listening by lovers of French music. The much missed Sally Silver and her vocal collaborator Christine Tocci are impeccably accompanied here by the masterful Richard Bonynge, elegantly wearing the mantle of collaborative pianist with the same stylishness with which he is known as a master conductor.

Producer Jeremy Silver and recording engineer Anthony Philpott deliver a CD the French would label haut de gamme.

Rafael de Acha