SONGBIRD. Music by Gounod, Chausson, Wolf, Quilter, Debussy, Brahms, Barber, Argento and Britten. Layla Claire, soprano. Marie-Eve Scarfone, piano. ATMA ACD 22754. Total Time: 47:20.
Layla Claire, a young Canadian soprano, who has already had considerable success in opera, concerts and recitals, made her debut at the Met in a production of Verdi’s Don Carlo conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. This, her first recording, features 20 songs covering a wide range of composers from Purcell through Brahms, Liszt, Wolf, Fauré and Gounod, to Argento, Barber and Britten. There are some wonderful performances on this CD, but also some questionable ones.
One of the best performances is a gorgeous rendering of Gounod’s Sérénade, in which Claire manages the leaps and runs with ease and reveals an uncommonly beautiful vocal quality in the lower register. Similarly, in Brahms “Unbewegte laue Luft” (Motionless, balmy air) Op. 57 No. 8, Claire’s low voice and well-controlled upper register are simply ideal. In these performances and throughout the CD, pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone offers excellent support.
Unfortunately, there are also several songs, including “Viens! Less gazons son verts!” in the opening track, in which Claire’s lack of vocal control is a major drawback. Too often, in these, she fails to control the line, especially on higher notes, tending to push the sound until it turns ugly. That said, it could be that she simply needs a stronger producer who can insist on retakes until the performance is as good as it can be.
It also struck me while listening to this uneven recital, that Claire’s problems in the upper register, where she frequently sounds ill at ease, may have something to do with a more basic problem. Considering that she sounds much more confident in her lower register and that she produces a sound there that, as I have said, is something special – perhaps she is really a mezzo.
Clearly, Layla Claire is in the early stages of her professional career and while this recording demonstrates considerable skill, it also suggests that she has some hard work and self-analysis ahead of her.
ATMA provides texts for all the songs in their booklet but no translations in either French or English.