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Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème de l’amour et de la mer op. 19 (1), Chanson perpétuelle op. 37 (2), Mélodies op. 2 (3): 2. Le Charme, 3. Les Papillons, 4. La dernière feuille, 5. Sérénade italienne, 7. Le Colibri
Jessye Norman (soprano), Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra/Armin Jordan (1), Michel Dalberto (pianoforte) (2, 3), Ronald Patterson (violin) (2), Salvatore Sansalone (violin) (2), Jean-Pierre Pigerre (viola), Lane Anderson (violoncello) (1, 2)
Dates and locations not given
Warner Classics Apex 0927 48992 2
[44’ 46"]


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Not so long ago I reviewed Hyperion’s complete edition of Chausson’s mélodies (CDA67321/2) and felt it did a very useful job, since it gathered together all his songs with piano (so of Poème de l’amour et de la mer, the principal item here, it only has Le temps de lilas, which also exists as a separate song with piano), and very professionally too. The singers are Felicity Lott, Ann Murray and Chris Pedro Trakas, the pianist Graham Johnson. But I was not the only critic who remarked that the best individual Chausson performances of the past had not been matched. I think most people had in mind historical interpreters such as Maggie Teyte and Pierre Bernac rather than Jessye Norman, whose French pronunciation is open to criticism. But as far as I am concerned she belongs among the greats in most of the songs in this programme.

Her sumptuous voice easily rides over the Wagnerian writing of the orchestral cycle, but can also be fined down to a pianissimo. With ideal support from Jordan this could hardly be bettered. If we compare her Chanson perpétuelle with Murray’s, it could be thought that the latter’s slightly faster tempo and understated style are more "French", but in truth the sheer imagination with which Norman and her partners bring every sultry phrase to life is another world of interpretation. It is the same story for most of the mélodies which close the recital, and in which Norman is truly fortunate in her pianist; in Le Colibri and La dernière feuille their slightly faster tempos avoid heaviness, and they are better at giving formal shape to a song, rather than just letting it happen. Conversely, their Sérénade italienne is slower than the Hyperion one; at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but I was completely won over by the last two pages where Dalberto’s pianism has a magic touch which Johnson’s well-turned fingers do not match. Les Papillons also wins thanks to Dalberto who goes beyond mere accuracy to give shape and point to an accompaniment that can seem like a piano study. However, the Schumannesque fantasy of Le Charme comes off better in Ann Murray’s more measured performance.

In short, this is a super disc. But the notes are brief and not especially helpful and there are no texts or translations. If this does not worry you, then this is a Chausson collection for the general listener, whereas the Hyperion is more specialised.

Christopher Howell

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