"Vieux pays merveilleux des contes de nourrice" (‘Old marvellous land of nursery tales’): These few words describe the irresistible and striking interpretation of Ravel's Shéhérazade, now of a bygone era. The timbral lows and highs radiate from Egyptian soprano Fatma Said’s voice. Her exemplary diction shines. Each word is intelligible and each sound exists to colour the word, emphasising its meaning. Nobody would have thought that the singer’s extremely versatile musicality – reminiscent of Regine Crespin’s vibrant performances – would find an even greater versatility in the orchestral version, with Malcolm Martineau’s beautifully timbred and precise piano occasionally slowing things down.
The program completely immerses itself in Spain, with Rafael Aguirre’s subtle guitar substituting itself for Martineau’s piano. Other facets of Fatma Said’s voice are her musical agility and ethereal spirit, which are revealed in the two Falla pieces. The Canción de Marinela by José Serrano, where her voice thickens, will remain an unforgettable moment of sweet sensuality. It's easy to start dreaming of Said exploring some other roles in zarzuelas, for which she would be divine! The three songs by Federico García Lorca, excerpts of the 13 Canciones españolas antiguas, are rather modest and of a noble elegance, even in the carnal arabesques of Nana de Sevilla. This is the perfect transition for the ‘Arabic’ songs that Fatma Said chooses next. She introduces, for example, a pretty melody from Egyptian composer Gamal Abdel-Rahim (1924-1988), before flying off into the gorgeous Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe by Bizet where Burcu Karadağ's nev (a sort of reed flute) improvises in counterpoint alongside the vocals. The last four pieces return to the Egyptian and Lebanese standards, in a jazzy and nostalgic atmosphere. This is a captivating album with overwhelming emotion!