By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER
Jacob Blickenstaff for The New York Times
In the 21st century, musicians have redefined the traditional boundaries of their instruments and genres: Marimba players and harpists perform Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, and jazz pianists reinterpret Mahler and Schumann.
Singers still face limitations on their repertory for logistical reasons: A Wagnerian soprano might struggle with Baroque coloratura, and most Baroque specialists probably can’t project over a Wagnerian orchestra. But while countertenors don’t traditionally sing French mélodie, the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky asserts that there’s no reason that they shouldn’t.
Over the past few years, Mr. Jaroussky has branched out from typical Baroque countertenor repertory and performed and recorded French art song. For his new album, “Green,” and for a concert at the Morgan Library & Museum on Friday evening, he has focused on songs set by various composers to texts by Verlaine, performing with the pianist Jérôme Ducros.
Verlaine encouraged musician friends to set his texts, which inspired composers who were drawn to the poems’ dissonance and irregular rhythms. Each half of the program opened with a setting of “Clair de Lune”: first one by Fauré, and then an alluring version by Josef Zygmunt Szulc. Fauré’s jovial, mellow setting of “Mandoline” was contrasted with settings of the same poem by Debussy and Poldowski(the Belgian-British composer and pianist Régine Wieniawski, who used that as a pseudonym). She illustrated the text with a turbulent, colorful piano part, as she did in a lively setting of “Colombine.”
Mr. Jaroussky’s silken voice proved alluring in these elegantly conceived interpretations. He shaded the texts with myriad nuances, as in the dramatic “Fantoches” from Debussy’s “Fête galantes,” a set of six songs, including a setting of “Clair de Lune,” that was featured on the program. His phrasing was admirable, as in the subtly shaped conclusion of Charles Bordes’s “O triste, triste était mon âme.” Charles Trenet’s jazzy version of “Chanson d’automne” contrasted with Reynaldo Hahn’s somber setting.
Mr. Ducros, whose colorful, sparkling playing greatly enhanced the evening, offered several solos that complemented Mr. Jaroussky’s selections. He rendered Debussy’s “L’Isle joyeuse” in Technicolor detail and also gave sensitive interpretations of “Clair de Lune” and the prelude from Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque.”