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Ernest CHAUSSON (1855 – 1899)
Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer Op.19 (1890)
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)

Shéhérazade (1903)
Henri DUPARC (1848 – 1933)

L’invitation au voyage (1892/5)
Chanson triste (1868, rev. 1902, orch. 1911)
Phidylé (1882, orch. 1891/2)
Felicity Lott (soprano); Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Armin Jordan
Recorded: Victoria Hall, Geneva, August 2001 (Chausson, Ravel) and October 2002 (Duparc)
AEON AECD 0314 [61:55]

 

The French label AEON, though specialising in French contemporary music, does not neglect classics, albeit those of the late 19th or early 20th centuries, as with the present release.

Chausson’s large-scale Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer Op.19, which the composer dedicated to Duparc, is one of his unquestionable masterpieces. This almost symphonic song-cycle on poems by Maurice Bouchor is a considerable achievement in its own right. It roughly falls into two parts (La Fleur de l’eau and La mort de l’amour linked by a short orchestral interlude). The composition of this masterpiece took Chausson ten years of hard and painstaking work: the first part was started in 1882 and orchestrated in 1890 whereas La mort de l’amour was completed in 1887, although the closing section of the second part (Le Temps des lilas) was published separately in 1886. Chausson’s symphonic preoccupations are clearly emphasised by the recurrent statements of several themes ensuring the organic cohesion of the whole work which might otherwise have been a mere collection of songs knit together in a more or less artificial or superficial way. The musical phrase, to which the words le temps des lilas is set, is particularly important in this respect (indeed, most of the interlude is based on it while it keeps surfacing throughout the whole work).

Henri Duparc’s reputation rests on a mere handful of beautifully crafted songs. In this respect, he is almost unique in the whole history of music; but this alone would not be enough to ensure his outstanding position. His songs, that he painstakingly chiselled, belong to the finest ones ever written in France and elsewhere. Some of them, such as Phidylé heard here, have become fairly well-known, popular even, and deservedly so. In his Baudelaire setting, L’Invitation au Voyage, Duparc does not set the central part of the poem, so that the finished song displays a clear bi-partite structure, made the more coherent by the repeat of several words and phrases (and their musical equivalents) common to the poem’s outer sections. In this, Duparc’s setting is quite comparable with Chausson’s Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer, albeit on a smaller, but nonetheless perfectly achieved scale. This and the moving Chanson triste are minor masterpieces.

Ravel’s Shéhérazade, one of his earliest masterpieces, is a setting of three poems by Tristan Klingsor (pseudonym of Arthur Leclère) that may now seem rather dated, but that provided Ravel with many opportunities for either lushly coloured or refined scoring, which is the trademark of mature Ravel. Though already displaying a number of Ravel fingerprints, the music as a whole still nods towards some of the composer’s predecessors such as Fauré or, to a certain extent, Duparc; but much of this wonderful score is pure Ravel.

Dame Felicity Lott’s affinity with the French repertoire is well-known as is the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande’s long association with this repertoire, first with Ernest Ansermet, later with Armin Jordan. So, in short, here is a recital of French orchestral songs performed by artists with a long expertise of the music. Add to this, that these works are superbly recorded; and you will need no further recommendation.

Hubert Culot

 

 



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