> Joseph Canteloube - Songs of the Auvergne [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)
Songs of the Auvergne - series 1-5
New Songs of the Auvergne (orch. Gershon Kingsley)
Netania Davrath (sop)
orchestra conducted by Pierre de la Roche (Songs); Gershon Kingsley (New Songs)
rec. late 1950s/early 1960s
VANGUARD CLASSICS SVC-38/39 [68.04+51.29]


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These two discs remain the reference against which all other recordings are measured.

Netania Davrath (1931-1987) grew up with Russian and then Israeli folksong in her artistic veins. This may well account for her avoidance in this context of operatic convention which in other throats so often suffocates these green-fresh songs. There was a time when every operatic diva, actual or presumptive, of the seventies seemed to grasp a selection of the Auvergne songs and stamp their identity into and on them. While de Los Angeles, von Stade, Bayo and Gomez have their moments Davrath stands supreme in any company.

The Auvergne songs, first performed in 1924 at the Concerts Colonne in Paris, are in local dialect. Davrath, fluent in eight languages, had six months of study with a language coach to secure an authentic approach to pronunciation. The New Songs are in straightforward French. Sung texts and translations appear side by side in the Vanguard booklet.

Davrath was not the first to record these Songs. She was preceded by the great Madeleine Grey and the eleven she recorded in 1930 with Elie Cohen are to be had on Pearl GEM0013. Grey is valuable and it was her 78s through which I came to know the songs when they were broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the early 1970s. Grey only recorded a double handful while Davrath recorded all five series - 27 songs (and they are all here). She then added fifteen others which are here called New Songs of the Auvergne. These New Songs are largely from collections of folksongs from other French regions: Chants-paysans-Auvergne et Quercy; Chants paysans-Quercy; Chants Paysans-Bearn; Chants du Languedoc; Chants des Pays-Basques (part recorded on Naïve by Maria Bayo who comes closest to the Davrath approach).

Canteloube showed a very sure hand when arranging and orchestrating these gems. His skill bears comparison with Grainger's without bring quite so oddball. Certainly when you compare Grainger's handle on Shallow Brown and Brigg Fair with Canteloube's dissections and reconstructions the same genius is at hand. The trick which both composers pull off while using classical apparatus is not to stifle the butterfly, birdsong, mist, escarpments, sun-dazzle, sheep calls and heat-haze of the originals. Canteloube works with an impressionistic palette, making the subtlest intensifying use of piano figures, flute, oboe and clarinet voicings. The lovely balance and touch of the instrumental gauze takes the lightest tincture from Ravel, d'Indy (Symphonie Cévennole), Roussel (Poème de la Forêt) and Bonnal. Who is Pierre de la Roche and why is the orchestra unnamed? Can anyone shed light on this?

Davrath's voice has a lambent girlish quality which takes you to a land which has some parallels with the scenes of the novels of Marcel Pagnol (Manon des Sources). She is free from that modern and stultifying sine qua non of the 'great' soprano - vibrato. Her vocal production is pure but infused with warm feeling, endearment, affection, humour and sensuousness. She is elegant without gentility; folk-like, pristine and flamboyant.

The tracks to sample are numerous. There is the trilling L'aïo dè rotso, Chut, Chut and the melting sweetness of Lo fiolaire. The heat haze shimmers in Obal, din lo coumbèlo, Pastorale, Baïlèro, Jou l'pount d'o Mirabel and Pastourello. Brilliance and glory in the sun thrill through L'Antouèno and Lou diziou bé. There is a knowing cheeky wink in Hé! Beyla-z-y d'au fé! (with its donkey brays), Pastrouletta, Lou Coucut (with a lubricious cuckoo that would have been unrecognised by Delius's First Cuckoo) and in Malurous qu'o uno fenno. Oï ayaï swoons in Delian sympathy before developing a Gascon swagger. A sing-song comfort reminisces its way through Quand z'eyro petitoune. The zip and vocal bravura of the dog calls in Tè l'co tè! are not to be missed.

In the New Songs Davrath frequently darkens her voice and takes on a new persona - less the demoiselle bergère; more the diva; though always steering clear of grand opera suffocation that would flatten these blooms. These songs are not as fine as the five Auvergne sets though Moi j'ai un homme has some of that delightful coquettish playfulness. The Kingsley orchestrations are more treacly than those of Canteloube although Allons, beau rossignol is pretty close and the Delian awakening of Reveillez-vous, belle endormie makes for a lovely effect.

Having bought the double LP set on VSD (gatefold sleeve) in circa 1978 I hurried, in the dawn of the CD, to buy a silver disc equivalent. My enthusiasm resulted in my buying two prohibitively expensive Japanese imports on King Vanguard CD K33Y 151 and 152 each sprinkled with Japanese characters and marked 3,300. They cost me in total 32.00 and that was in about 1986! I still have those discs. They are laid out differently than these two Vanguards with the fourth song-set split 3:3 across the two discs.

The current Vanguard set (which can also be had in SACD format) is in AAD, ultra analog, 20 bit digital sound and sounds superb not once flinching under the stratospheric demands and pure searching poignancy of Davrath's irreplaceable voice. The original 30ips half inch master tapes were made on an Ampex 300 series vacuum tube (valve) tape recorder. Specially designed playback heads were used and greatest attention paid to alignment, signal to noise ratio and frequency response. The results are there for all to judge and revel in.

Intriguingly the New Songs (which are miscalled as New Songs of the Auvergne - only one of them is from the Auvergne) sound different suggesting not only Gershon Kingsley's orchestrations rather than Canteloube's but also a different venue and/or microphone placement.

Rob Barnett

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