CD reviews: Rio-Paris, Brazil

Nathalie Dessay, Agnès Jaoui, Helena Noguerra, Liat Cohen
Rio-Paris (ERATO/Warner Classic)

There is a lot more to Brazil than football prowess and a boom economy with a nominal GDP of US $2.5 trillion, seventh in the world. Its rich and seductive musical tradition, combining tango, samba, habanera dance rhythms, even a bit of Polka in the Machiche, became popular in France, and much later North America with the Bossa Nova craze and Stan Getz’s Girl from Ipanema. This splendid recording, featuring singers Nathalie Dessay, Agnès Jaoui, and Helena Naguerra, beautifully accompanied by classical guitarist Liat Cohen, presents 17 songs that celebrate the Rio-Paris musical connection. All three vocalists combine in brilliant harmony and counterpoint in the majestic Les eaux de mars, French lyrics by George Moustaki; Jaoui renders the bittersweet Manhà de carnival over Cohen’s splendid guitar; Jauoi and Noguerra do honour to Antonio Carlos Jobim with their marvelous duet on A felicidade, and Noguerra etches subtlety into Jobim’s classic bossa tune, Desfinado. Cohen goes solo on three lovely pieces by Villa Lobos and Baden Powell. The final Bidonville again features the three singers, French lyrics by Claude Nougaro. This song from the slums says, “I too have five fingers/We can believe we are equal.” Espléndido!

Brazil (ERATO/Warner Bros.)

With so much to celebrate about Brazilian influenced music, this second remarkable release this summer from ERATO is another winner. The difference with Rio-Paris, which focuses on the French connection, is the distinctive vocal personality of the diminutive Stacey Kent on seven of the 14 cuts, and that of French crooner Bernard Lavilliers on three. The lush backing of the Ébène string quartet, responsible for the sublime arrangements, and a strong French rhythm section make for a standout album. Lavilliers opens with his own O’Gringo, a bittersweet reflection, followed by Kent’s, So Nice, longing for love to a samba beat, and a saucy reading of Stevie Wonder’s I Can’t Help It. Instrumentals such as Brazil’s Hermeto Pasquale’s Bebé and especially Argentina’s Astor Piazzola’s Libertango add some challenging expressive moments to the overall smoothness of the vocals. Absolutely irresistible are Kent’s slow and open treatment of Charlie Chaplin’s classic Smile, with Jim Tomlinson on sax, and the finale, Ary Barroso’s Brazil, rendered with the requisite emotion by choir and orchestra and a strong percussive finale.

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