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Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)
Chants d'Auvergne: La pastoura als camps; Bailero; Trois Bourrees; Pastourelle; L'Antoueno; Deux Bourrees; La delaissado; Passo pel prat; Lou boussu; Brezairola; Malurous qu'o uno fenno; Jou l'pount d'o Mirabel; Oi ayai; Lou coucut; Quand z'eyro petitoune; La-haut sur le rocher; Uno jionto postouro; Lo diziou be
Véronique Gens (sop)
Orchestre Nationale de Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus
Rec July 2004, Lille, France
NAXOS 8.557491 [62:13]

The bucolic Canteloube songs in Auvergnat dialect and in venerable French are gems, every one. There is not a single dud in the set. Ever since the Dubonnet commercial of the early 1970s they have never been out of the public's affections. That said, when did you last hear them in concert? They are the almost exclusive province of the radio broadcast and the CD player.

I always think of the singer of these songs as the goat shepherdess Manon from the film 'Manon des Sources' - wrong geography for these songs but right spirit. The closest approach to perfection - in fact sui generis is the two CD set by Natania Davrath on Vanguard (Vanguard Classics SVC-38/39). Madeleine Grey's 1930 pioneering recordings are well worth seeking out if you can thole the vintage sound (Pearl GEM0013). Various big names have tackled these songs. Of these, Von Stade (Sony) and Upshaw (leisurely on Warner ERATO 0927 44656 2) did especially well. Others including Kiri Te Kanawa flatten these songs like a trodden snail with an excess of operatic weight. These are, after all, songs of an innocence and worldliness that is both young and pastoral. There should be no intrusive sophistication. Gens is good - make absolutely no mistake. I also liked the engineer's choice to give the diaphanous orchestral role parity of prominence with the voice. Gens' voice has the slightest suggestion of plumminess which takes some of the attractive sheen off this new issue. She is however excellent at getting her lips around tongue-twisters such as Obal din lou Limouzi (tr. 5). Her breath control is a thing of wonder in Pastourelle (tr. 6). Gens and Casadesus are just a little hasty in the Baïlero - robbing this glorious heat-haze of a song of its full effect. The wheeze of the village band in Oud 'onoren gorda? (tr. 4) is faithfully caught by the Lille orchestra. Interesting to hear that the Delian pulse at the start of Oï ayaï (tr. 16). The recording gives a jewelled eminence to the orchestral piano. In the long introduction to Lo delaïssádo there is a startlingly Finzian plangency to the woodwind parts. The little instrumental 'yawns' in Brezairola register tellingly.

By the look of the recording dates the team took a lot of time to get the songs just right. It's just a pity that opportunity was not taken to put more songs on the disc.

This is a very good economical single disc version of 21 of the Auvergne songs. They are well sung and the orchestral role is given the attention its attractions clamantly demand. The picture is completed by Naxos’s decision to print full sung texts and parallel translations into English.

Speaking of which, the last song ends with a vengeful Housman-like touch when the girl speaks of faithless Pierre who steals hearts and breaks them. The girl sings with feeling of her heart stolen by Pierre. No sighs here, however: to startling donkey brays from the orchestra she sings
'If you ever do that again / Give that trouble / I will take my knife /And skin you alive.' And I think she means it Pierre!

Rob Barnett

see also review by Anne Ozorio

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