One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,928 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Buy through MusicWeb for £11.99 postage paid World-wide. Immediate delivery
You may prefer to pay by Sterling cheque to avoid PayPal. Contactfor details

Purchase button

New French Song - new settings of French words by British composers (2003-2004)
Tarik O'REGAN (b. 1972) Sainte (Mallarmè) [3.39]
Sadie HARRISON (b. 1965) ..issu stellaire.. (Mallarmé) [6.12]
Will TODD (b. 1970) Le Pont Mirabeau (Apollinaire) [5.09]
Edwared COWIE (b. 1943) Les Hiboux (Baudelaire) [4.12]
Bob CHILCOTT (b. 1955) L'enfant dort (Hugo) [1.42]
John CASKEN (b. 1949) Colloque Sentimental (Verlaine) [6.12]
Laurence CRANE (b. 1961) Tour de France Statistics 1903 – 2003 (Crane) [4.47]
Adam GORB (b. 1958) La Cloche Fêlée (Baudelaire) [6.27]
Gabriel JACKSON (b. 1962) A la Mémoire de Claude Debussy (Cocteau) [3.24]
Michael FINNISSY (b. 1946) Salomé (Laforgue) [3.09]
Andrew KEELING (b. 1955) Artémis (de Nerval) [4.31]
Hugh WOOD (b. 1932) Alicante (Prévert) [1.47]
Diana BURRELL (b. 1948) Longtemps ce fut l'été (Bonnefoy) [2.15]
Helen ROE (b. 1955) Pourquoi? (Verlaine) [5.48]
Nicola LEFANU (b. 1947) Billet à Whistler (Mallarmè) [6.38]
Edward MCGUIRE (b. 1948) Rêves de la Bonne Heure (McGuire) [4.52]
Judith BINGHAM (b. 1952) La Jeune Morte (Heredia) [2.31]
Roger REDGATE (b. 1958) Mirlitonnades (Beckett) [1.57]
Howard SKEMPTON (b. 1947) Le Pont Mirabeau (Apollinaire) [1.34]
Graham FITKIN (b. 1963) Les Aliments Blancs (Satie) [1.44]
Alison Smart (soprano)
Katharine Durran (piano)
Recorded at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, 1-3 April 2005. DDD.
MSV CD 92100 [79.36]

Any release that broadens the range of art song before the public immediately arouses my interest. The idea of getting twenty British composers to set French texts might initially raise fears about the love-hate relationship that supposedly exists between the two nations. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this disc is much the stronger for it.

The listening experience is interesting too; indeed one could think of this as the musical equivalent of twenty miniature images displayed in a row. With each track you’re moved along the line to something new. Each is by its very nature a concentrated experience as there’s no growing accustomed to a continuity of style or technique. What is each composer’s sensitivity and approach to text like and which takes primacy in performance, text or music?

Then there’s the texts ... and the range of poets covered. Here in this case are some of the true greats. In one case there’s the opportunity to compare two settings of the same text.

The excellent booklet includes full texts with translations accompanied by composer and poet mini profiles. We are told how the project was borne out of the experience of these artists performing Poulenc and Fauré in 1999. Whilst only a couple of the works presented here have anything approaching the subtlety of response that those great Frenchmen exhibit in their chansons, they nonetheless offer adventure and amusement that is amply rewarding. Indeed it is often the more off-beat texts that have the staying power: Beckett, Crane and Satie - who else could make a list of white foods bring a smile to your face?

There is a tendency here to explore vocal extremes, be it in terms of range (Redgate) or intensity of attack (Gorb). However, this is balanced by the inner calm and reflectiveness that others achieve. Tarik O’Regan’s Mallarmé setting hasn’t failed yet to draw me in and make me stop everything to listen, so too McGuire and Jackson. Others instil different reactions. Harrison appears extract-like. Redgate takes the song to the point of vocal abstraction. Bingham has a slight indifference to the text perhaps. Then there are the gentle nods from one composer to another artist: Jackson to Debussy and LeFanu to Whistler.

Listening to the whole disc at one sitting might be a touch wearing, and quickly I adopted the pattern of listening to smaller groups. As with most intricately created miniatures inevitably there were facets that revealed themselves only on repeated visits. Gradually preferred individual songs and groups emerged. Groups of poets, groups of tempi – alike and contrasting – allowed for the creation of mini-recitals drawn from the overall pool. For example, I found the following particularly effective: the contrast between Todd and Cowie or the suitably questioning Roe against Skempton’s lilting rhythms and natural linguistic feeling.

Whilst Alison Smart is set a tall order by the composers, to my ears she makes a strong case for these songs. Perhaps here and there one regrets that a feel for the inner music of the French language is sacrificed a little so that a vocal high wire act can be pulled off. But then that maybe shows a composer’s lack of innate linguistic affinity too. Katharine Durran offers solid support throughout, her instrument being recorded closely, but allowing for a nice atmosphere to develop around it – though it too can be insistent when required by the likes of Bingham or Fitkin.

Artistically enterprising and uncompromising, with excellent production values too, this Metier release is well worth exploring.

Evan Dickerson


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

Eloquence recordings
All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Recordings of the Month


Chopin Bruce Liu

Ingeneri Volume 2

Mondonville - Titon et L'Aurore

Telemann - French Cantatas 1


March 2022

Brahms Symphony 4
MacMillan Larghetto for Orchestra

Bruch Violin Concertos

Debussy Preludes Book 2

Jan-Peter de GRAAFF
Cello Concertos

La Nuit étoilé
Berlioz. Holmes


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.