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Ninon Vallin (Soprano)
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)

Si mes vers avaient des ailes
L’heure exquise
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)

Le Colibri
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Chanson de Printemps

Le Nil
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

André MESSAGER (1853-1929)

Fortunio (Le vieille maison grise)
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)

Chanson triste
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)

Berceuse de Jocelyn

Le temps des cerises
Augusta HOLMÈS (1847-1903)

Noël – Trois anges sont Venus
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Chanson de Solveig
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Chanson géorgienne

Chant Hindou

La chère maison



Intimité (after Chopin)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Jerome KERN (1885-1945)

La nuit est pour l’amour

Près de l’étang
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violon du soir arr. Calmette (Waltz No 5)

Ninon Vallin (soprano)
Unidentified accompanists
Undated [1920-30s]
MALIBRAN MR 553 [78.28]

Ninon Vallin was probably the most widely recorded of all pre-War French sopranos. No matter whether in passionate declamation or coquettish insinuation she was something of a marvel and she remained in good technical form, her breath sustained and technically admirable, with that rolled "r" of hers so characteristically Parisian. Added to this was a certain insouciant command and in terms of the quality of the voice – as distinct from characterful style - there was something of a mezzo quality to the lower register that gave her considerable vocal mobility. But the abiding impression is one of style and charm supported by knowing characterisation.

Whilst VAI and Pearl have issued single discs devoted to her – and a number of her complete operatic recordings, Louise and Werther amongst them, are now available – one of the most recommendable slices of her art is contained in Marston’s two CD set of her complete Pathé-Art recordings, made in Paris between 1927 and 1929. I would direct readers there for comprehensively enjoyable results. Malibran include a couple of Pathé sides but concentrate, more than usefully, on her Odeon recordings – a disparate bunch that takes in Berlioz and Kern alike.

In her first items, the Hahn settings, we can immediately hear that mezzo-like depth and the immediacy of her expressive shading of the text (especially fine, one by Hugo, the other Verlaine). The quiet and concentrated rapture of L’heure exquise is outstanding, supported as it is by darkening colours and acute characterisation. Technically she shows bright, forward sounding consonants in Berlioz’s Villanelle and shows an aristocratically elegiac quality in her Gounod (albeit the piano is set too far back so its rippling accompaniment is not as immediate as it might be). She sings old favourites, what Louis Armstrong called the Good Old Good Ones – Leroux, Godard’s Berceuse de Jocelyn, a vocalised Fauré Dolly, a lurid Brahms Waltz and a Chopin monstrosity. And no, she really hasn’t quite the voice for Rachmaninov but she certainly does for the conversational intimacies of Dalcroze. Vallin accompanied by the Hawaiian guitar wouldn’t necessarily make my Desert Island cut – it’s the Francophone Jerome Kern arrangement – but it goes to show that crossover wasn’t a syndrome discovered in 1987.

The copies used are good ones and minimal intervention sounds to have been employed. So we have an entertaining and diverse collection, sporting chanson and some slapstick – though rather more of the former than the latter. And who wouldn’t want to hear a little slapstick now and again – especially when Vallin does it so well and so enjoyably.

Jonathan Woolf


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