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Fleurs Jetées. Songs by French Women Composers
Augusta HOLMÈS (1847-1903)

La belle Madeleine
Sérénade printanière
Parmi les meules
Chanson lointaine
La heine
Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979)

Le ciel en nuit (1910)
Avec mes sens, avec mon Coeur (1910)
Vous m’avez dit (1910)
Élégie (?1910)
Soir d’hiver (1916)
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)

Chanson slave
Rêve d’un soir
Fleur jetée
Pauline VIARDOT-GARCÍA (1821-1910)

Berceuse cosaque (? 1886)
Bonjour mon Coeur (? 1886)
Sérénade Florentine (? 1886)
Madrid (? 1886)
Rebecca de Pont Davies (mezzo-contralto)
Clare Toomer (piano)
Recorded St Paul’s Church, New Southgate, London, no date
LORELT LNT 109 [62.25]


This intriguing collection of songs takes us from Pauline Viardot-Garciá (b.1821) to Nadia Boulanger (b.1887), who lived until as late as 1979. It’s difficult however to pin down the actual compositional dates of these melodies and Lorelt is not exactly helpful on the subject. Nevertheless though none of the names will be completely unfamiliar to readers the music probably will be. We get five songs by each composer – except Viardot-Garciá, of whose songs we get four (ironic inasmuch as hers are much the best settings in purely vocal terms). Holmès was essentially self-taught though she did later study with Franck. Her earlier craving for a romantic canvass gradually narrowed in focus to song, though big descriptive pieces were always flaring in her imagination. Her settings are variously simple (La belle Madeleine) to rather salon in orientation (Chanson lointaine). Of the handful La heine is by far the most exciting, fuelled as it is by a resonant and tough text to which she responds with equal fervour. Harmonically and temperamentally it is a cut above the rest.

Nadia Boulanger always acknowledged the superiority of her sister Lili as a composer. Some of Nadia’s 1910 settings were jointly written with the famous pianist Raoul Pugno. As Odaline de la Martinez writes in her notes his chromaticism and her newer sounding dissonances make for a pleasing inner tension. Vous m’avez dit sounds vaguely Fauréan, though inclined to be heavier, and the 1916 setting (by her alone) of Soir d’hiver has plenty of tendresse and also more declamatory and carillon-like force. Chaminade was a salon favourite who fortunately left behind some recordings as examples of her own pianistic style. Her songs are as one would expect – salon effective (Madrigal), cod Slavonic (Chanson slave) and neat but lacking distinction (Rêve d’un soir). The highpoint of her five is undoubtedly Amoroso, which taps into an altogether more rapt reflectiveness, increasingly ardent and opulently expressive. Viardot-Garciá was a famous singer and sister of Maria Malibran, one of the nineteenth century’s greatest sopranos. Her son was Paul Viardot, dedicatee of Fauré’s First Violin Sonata. She was clearly a taxing word setter because Berceuse cosaque is a mini scena – independence of the pianistic right hand, tolling motifs, coloratura demands and mezzo depths are all here (and it makes the generic wisp of Chaminade’s Chanson slave sound ever more abject). There’s élan and high spirits in Bonjour mon Coeur and cleverly rocking and insistent rhythmic patterns in the accompaniment to Sérénade Florentine. On this basis we could do with more of her songs brought to wider notice; Ott and Keller have recorded some for CPO and Bartoli has recorded a couple for Decca. Here honours are taken by Rebecca de Pont Davies who identifies herself as a mezzo-contralto. Actually I see what she means; she has a strong chest voice and a well-deployed centre though her tone does noticeably thin when she pushes up. Her diction is also not the finest. Still she has quite a lot of character and the Viardot-Garciá settings certainly need that – and get it. Clare Toomer is a good accompanist and the whole is under the musical direction (as they used to say on the 78 labels) of Odaline de la Martinez. Quite what that really means I can’t say but it’s worked out relatively well. Texts and translations are provided.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Christopher Howell


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