We British have not developed an art-song tradition of our own and do not celebrate the traditions of others in this field – except at the LeedsLieder+ Festival which this year was a triumph.
The final recital, given by Dame Felicity Lott accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, was an unsurpassable sampling of songs in the French ‘Mélodie’ tradition.
Beginning with Duparc’s elegantly lyrical but passionate L’invitation au voyage, Lott moved on to settings by Fauré and Debussy of Verlaine and Baudelaire poems that encompassed so much human experience in a handful of bars, in which her expression and technique were masterly.
The Festival had commissioned new songs from composer Gabriel Jackson, known for his choral works in the British tradition.
In the hands of Lott and Martineau, they proved to have a vocal line worthy of Duparc and a harmonically clear and luminous piano part with touches of smiling irony.
The finale was a dessert of witty “French froth” – as the Festival brochure put it – including songs by Saint-Saëns, Hahn, Poulenc and Messager.
They were all delivered by Lott with panache and even, to the surprise of some, a dash of burlesque. In this ambience even her Noel Coward encore, A Talent to Amuse, sounded French!