> Un Siecle De Melodies Francaises [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Un Siècle De Mélodies Françaises
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)

LíÎle heureuse, Les cigales, Villanelle des petits canards, Ballade des gros dindons, Lied, Chanson pour Jean
Charles GOUNOD (1801-1893)

Ah! Ma belle rebelle, Venise, Ce que je suis sans toi, Les gazons sont verts
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

3 Ballades de François Villon
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Histoires naturelles
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

Voyage à Paris, La grenouillère, Le disparu, Dernier poème, Fêtes galantes, Nuage
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)

La statue de bronze, Daphénéo, Le chapelier
Franck Leguérinel (baritone), Irène Aïtoff (piano)
Rec. July 1992 at the Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne, using a 1930 Pleyel grand piano
ARION ARN 68215 [69í09"]

At the time this recording was made the pianist, Irène Aïtoff was 88 years old. She began her career as accompanist to Yvette Guilbert (1932-39), then worked for 10 years with Charles Münch. She was made choir director of the Festival de Aix-en-Provence and later worked with Karajan on some of his French opera projects (Pelléas et Mélisande and Carmen). I can only say that she shows such a remarkable nimbleness in a song like Les gazons sont verts (track 10) that I can hardly believe she played it any better all those years ago, nor is there any lack of strong tone where required (hear the sizzling start of Voyage à Paris), and you wouldnít think there was any generation-gap from the sort of collaboration we hear in Fêtes galantes (track 23). There is not quite a Gieseking-like sheen to the tone, but Gieseking played on a Steinway which Debussy for one didnít like, so this is French music as its composers expected it to sound. The only criticism is that the engineers, justly proud of the grande dame, have balanced the recording just very slightly in her favour.

No doubt the young baritone Franck Leguérinel benefited enormously from her experience, but you canít put talent into a person who has none and he shows plenty of gifts on his own account. He always manages a natural delivery of the words, clear but without mannerisms which might break the line. He phrases with much musicality and genuinely beautiful tone. I was just a little concerned about a waveriness which for the moment passes as an attractive vibrato but which may create problems later. However, it is not in the nature of the programme to let us hear him in a long, sustained legato, and when eventually something of that kind crops up, La grenouillère (track 20) or Dernier poème, the verdict is favourable. The record comes with an introduction by Pierre Jourdan, General and Artistic Director of the Théâtre Imperial de Compiègne, which tells how the disc was the fruit of an audition which made him sit up at the end of a boring afternoon and also states his intention to make a similar disc every year. After a trawl through the Internet I can find no evidence that this was done, though Leguérinel seems very active in European opera houses. A review of the Plasson recording of Lakmé took issue with the provincial standards of the minor parts, and in particular with the "shaky" Frederic of Leguérinel. So it sounds as if my fears might have been founded. But on the other hand he received a rave review elsewhere for his performance of Poulencís Le bal masqué on Naxos, so I suspend judgement. What we have here suggests he had, in 1992, the capacity to become a much-valued guide to the French mélodie, and I should like to know if he has in fact done so.

All this amounts to a thoroughly recommendable disc of mélodies. I would only point out that the programme chosen is, in spite of the presence of Gounod, a fairly uncompromising one. Listeners who enjoy the orchestral and piano music of Debussy and Ravel but do not know their mélodies are advised that they may not, at first, find the same enchantment here. This is because these composers saw it as their business to put the words first. In fact, if you persevere, always concentrating on the texts (which are provided with English translations) you will find that musical motives and a tight musical construction start to lodge themselves in your head. But you will have to work at least as hard as you do with, say, Hugo Wolf, for this music is not, overall, as obviously "beautiful" as is that of the three composers of mélodies who are most obviously not included: Fauré, Chausson and Duparc. Over to you.

Christopher Howell

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