The catalog of Swedish soprano Anne Sofie von Otter has always included experiments with pop and jazz, but this double album release of 2014 marks the first instance in which she combines mainstream and popular material in the same package. "Douce France," named for a song (included) by Charles Trénet
, offers mélodies (French art songs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries) and chansons: here, popular songs of the mid-20th century, including the Édith Piaf
hit "La vie en rose." Give von Otter credit: she makes something new of that chestnut, and in general the chansons are a lot more spirited and attractive than might be expected from someone who is neither French nor a pop singer. The real accomplishment here lies not in the chansons, nor in the mélodies (a diverse group that steers mostly away from the usual Debussy
, and Fauré
items), but in the relationship von Otter finds between these two repertories. She adopts a quiet, intimate tone, transposing several numbers down in order to keep her voice in a comfortable range, and the whole album has the room-sized dimensions that both repertories demand. Von Otter catches the considerable sophistication of many of the chansons and the hints of café rhythm in many of the mélodies. And the fact that she sounds terrific, at age 58, doesn't hurt a bit. A nice find for lovers of French song.