There are just a handful who can also break down the distance between stage and audience in a single phrase; who can deliver every poetic nuance with effortless finesse. French soprano Veronique Gens is one.
This recital of French song was ravishing from beginning to end. With her regular recital partner Susan Manoff at the piano, Gens radiated warmth and passion, elegance and sass. Her obvious love of the repertoire was infectious. Manoff supported with a supple touch and didn't use a page-turner: small detail, but indicative of the easy intimacy this duo brings to the stage.
There were too many beautiful moments to mention them all here. Gens's soft, husky grain in Faure's Au bord de l'eau and her quiet ardency in Apres un reve. The way she lingered over the consonants of "luxe, calme et volupte" in Duparc's L'invitation au voyage and the gorgeous colours she found in the repeated "la-bas" of Romance de Mignon. Even a rogue mobile phone didn't throw her stride: "Ceci n'est pas Duparc," she laughed, and proceeded to sing an exquisite Chanson triste.
The programme never strayed from late-19th century France, with a pair of early Debussy songs (Fleur des Bles and Nuit d'Etoiles), a striking set of four by Ernest Chausson and six sugary numbers by Reynaldo Hahn.
There were encores by Hahn, Faure and Poulenc, all delectable. Gens's baroque pedigree is evident in the simple grace of everything she sings; with added dark hues and a richer low register in recent years, her voice only seems to get better and better.