Canadian baritone Stéphane Degout is no novice to recording, with a number of very fine efforts to his credit, including Bertrand the Billy's La bohème, the Fauré Requiem with Accentus, and Ein deutsches Requiem with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, but this 2010 recital of Romantic and post-Romantic French mélodies represents his first solo venture. Degout has a big, resonant voice that's appealingly warm and solid throughout. He approaches each of the songs with intelligent musicality and obvious passion. He brings all the material a convincing dramatic flair that is especially evident and impressive in the Debussy and Ravel cycles. His is not the most colorful or nuanced voice, though, so he misses some of the subtlety that can mark the most sublime performances of these songs. He is especially strong in the passages where he can cut loose with heroic abandon, in songs like Duparc's Le Galop, but he is also effective in lyrical, meditative pieces like Debussy's Le Son du cor s'afflige vers les bois and Ravel's Le cygne. Pélleas is one of his stage roles, and it's easy to hear how the sensitivity and naturalness of his phrasing would serve him well in that opera.
Degout has put together an attractive program that includes a good mix of familiar and unfamiliar repertoire. He balances well-known pieces like Ravel's Histoires naturelles, Debussy's Trois Ballades de François Villon, and songs by Duparc and Hahn with more obscure songs by Saint-Saëns, Chabrier, and some early Debussy. Pianist Hélène Lucas, a long-term collaborator of Degout's, is clearly in sync with the singer's pacing and provides a sensitive and colorful accompaniment. The miking seems very close to the singer; his sound might have benefitted from a more spacious, uncrowded ambience.