Ian Lace's reviews first drew my attention to the connoisseurs'
label, Maguelone. Hyperion have set the most exalted performing and
information standards in various genres including Mélodie. However
Timpani and Maguelone have also made exceedingly valuable and rewarding
contributions and should be prominent in the almanac of any enthusiast
of French song.
Koechlin is a far more ascetic, severe and devout musician
than these songs might suggest. If you listen to his choral works on
Marco Polo and on Skarbo you will detect a composer who tends towards
the gravely religious. Fellow Bretons such as Emmanuel, Ropartz and
Ladmirault are much more sensual. The impressive late orchestral works
of Koechlin as well as the Seven Stars Symphony, Les Heures
Persanes and Livre du Jongle all point to a composer with
a more impressionistic and grand inclination.
The first six songs here are settings of Théodore
de Banville. They are theatrical, epic and a touch conventional. Bouilhet's
Chanson d'amour is a rondel of cascading lightheartedness. Yet
more individuality and grit is to be found in Pleine Eau (1892).
Declin d'Amour, a setting, from 1894, of words by Sully Prudhomme
is ambitious and operatic in achievement.
Time after time Maguelone's wisdom in selecting Michèle
Command for this project is affirmed. Her voice tends towards the mocha
end of the spectrum. Her vibrato is well under control and she has reserves
aplenty when her great moments come as in the Puccinian tragedy of Declin
d'Amour and from two years later in the Mussorgskian bell-possessed
Prière du Mort. Command's only perceptible weakness comes
in voice colouration at the quieter extreme of the range although this
seems less of an issue towards the end of the disc. The same warmed
chocolate vocal tone exists whether she sings piano or forte.
These miniatures come into their exotic own in the
five Leconte de Lisle songs from 1899 to 1901. They are Nox;
L'Astre rouge; the two Op. 21 Villanelles and Les
Rêves Morts. L'Astre rouge and Les Rêves Morts explore
in much more atmospheric terms the same death-centred sentiments as
La prière du Mort, tracing a heavy-eyed path through
the voluptuous littoral between sleep and waking. The first of the two
Villanelles is much in the same vein but the second blows away
the languor with a fresh ecstatic breeze. The three Albert Samain settings
are from the period 1902-1909. Koechlin's manner becomes more oblique
here yet is still anchored to the impressionistic style of the Leconte
de Lisle songs. Soir Païen takes us to classical Greece
where the nights are fragrant with the roses of Syria and where
the moonlight cuts through the trees and kisses the eyes of Endymion.
The Paul Bourget setting of Novembre is more
personal - a deeply felt, calm and calming song which is sweet as a
benison and yet sad also. Another masterful song.
The disc ends in lissom Debussian tunefulness with
a setting of de Marsan's Si Tu Le Veux with its irresistible
running accompaniment and silkily spun vocal line.
I have quite unfairly concentrated on Command's role.
I would not like to sacrifice the opportunity also to praise Christophe
Durrant who is unfailingly attentive, discreet and resolute as the songs
The notes, which are also in French and German, are
by the ever-reliable and inspiring Michel Fleury (what a pity that we
hear hardly anything from him these days). The French musical renaissance
owes much to his exploration and path-finding. The words (in French
of course) are printed in full although some of you will erupt with
typically Anglophone vituperation because there are no English translations.
It would be a great pity if you allowed such a small demerit to discourage
This is a lovely disc and I urge you to hear it if
you count yourself a sincere explorer of the mélodie or chanson.
This is another side to Koechlin who here at least is less the severe
Mosaic prophet than his ramblingly full beard might lead you to believe.