Paysages = DEBUSSY: Ariettes Oubliees; MESSIAEN: Poemes Pour Mi; FAURE: Les Roses D’Ispahan; Nell; Apres un Reve; Adieu – Susanna Phillips, sop./ Myra Huang, piano – Bridge 9356, 54:11 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

This program of French song marks the solo debut recording of the brilliant young soprano, Susanna Phillips. Ms. Phillips was the recipient of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 Beverly Sills Artist Award, and appeared at the Met last season as Pamina in Julie Taymor’s production of The Magic Flute, and as Musetta in La bohème, the role with which she made her Met debut in 2008.

Phillips has received a lot of press the last few years of usually exceptional purview, and this debut album seems to confirm the hype. She has a lovely voice, rich, smooth, dynamically versatile, and capable of much nuance. Particularly effective is this recital, no doubt selected to show off just these capabilities that I have enumerated. The excellent diction of this artist coupled with what might be termed an infused French tonal coloring make for an appropriate and highly effective rendition that gives no end of pleasure.

The Debussy cycle is probably the most ingratiating; the evocative piano part and the text-wedded complexities of this “turning point” work (dedicated to Mary Garden) display to the full the first fruits of tonal ambiguity that would mark the composer’s finest efforts. Faure makes us change gears quite sternly, but here Phillips shows us how liquid and gorgeously colored her voice can be. Where I find areas for development lie in the Messiaen; it’s not enough to rely on tone and technique in this piece. One must probe the interpretative depths in order to bring the subtle meanings of Messiaenic mysticism to the fore, and it’s not always an easy challenge; great sensitivity to every curve of text to musical line must be considered, and I wish that Phillips explored this more as it would deepen her interpretation and bring more depth to this piece. Perhaps in time.

Engineering and sound are superb, as is the royal accompaniment of Myra Huang.

—Steven Ritter