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Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
Mélodies: Sérénade, Chanson triste, Le manoir de Rosemonde, Líinvitation au voyage, Phidylé, Testament, Sérénade florentine, Soupir, La vague et la cloche, Extase, La vie antérieure, Le galop, Lamento, Elégie, La fuite*
Paul Groves (tenor), Roger Vignoles (piano), with Emily Pulley (soprano)*
Recorded 10th-12th November 2003 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Canada
NAXOS 8.557219 [53:56]


The French rather invented the concept of the petit maître and produced a lot of them. Duparc, you may say, whose 16 solo songs (the two omitted here are unsuitable for male performance) and one duet barely fill a CD (and the rest of whose output would barely fill another), must be one of the most petit of all. And yet there is nothing petit about the music itself which, unlike the gentle, cherishable offerings of, say Fauré, is expansive, intense and passionate. The term "epic miniature" which has sometimes been applied to John Irelandís smaller works is even more true of Duparc, and never less so in an apparently "little" piece like the "Sérénade florentine".

That a musician of such vast experience as Roger Vignoles would not fail to realise this essential bigness might have been taken for granted. Paul Groves is (at least for me) an unknown factor and he has evidently given a lot of thought to the words and phrasing, as well as employing a wide range of vocal colour. Yet, while I give him full marks for his intentions, I have to say that some colours are more successful than others. Particularly when singing softly he seems undecided whether it is best to use a head voice or to stay supporting; there are some less than exquisite sounds either way. Still, on the whole he will not leave you in doubt as to the quality or nature of the music.

The final track seems to have been designed to show us that, whatever reservations we may have about Groves, singing comes infinitely worse than his. In Duparcís sole duet he is partnered by a soprano whose name, rightfully relegated to the small print, is Emily Pulley. Itís the sort of voice which just about works when billowing out operatically but sounds tremulous and insecure when anything subtle is required. And when she does billow out operatically something goes badly awry with the microphone, pulling the level back drastically in a not very successful attempt to avoid distortion. Frankly, this track is not of an acceptable professional level, either artistically or technically, and should not have been issued. Itís a pity no-one thought of engaging a better singer who might then have recorded the remaining two songs (for which there was ample room), thereby increasing the discís value as an aural reference library.

In spite of a good note and full texts and translations, Iím afraid this is one of those Naxos discs which seems priced about right. If eight songs are enough for you (including one of those not included here and coupled with Debussy and Poulenc), may I remind you of Olga Pasiecznikís beautiful disc, recommended by me some time ago, entitled "Les Chemins díAmour" (Accord ACD 078-2)? Here we enter a totally different world, where the ear is led onwards by the sheer beauty of the voice which wafts in and out of our consciousness as a perfect counterpart to Marcel Proust. A gentler, less epic Duparc, but wonderfully beautiful. Do try it.

On a question of nomenclature, can I point out to Naxos that these are "Mélodies", not "Chansons"; "Chansons" are things like "La Vie en Rose".

Christopher Howell

 


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