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Wagnerian Songs
Emile MATHIEU (1844-1932)

Le Roi des Aulnes;Le fidèle Eckart; Le Barde; Le Pêcheur
Sylvain DUPUIS (1856-1931)

Mon coeur sera joyeux !; Bonsoir, Mignonne; Elégie; Aubade; Matin
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Tout n’est qu’images fugitives; Mignonne; Extase (*); Dors, mon enfant; Attente; La tombe dit à la rose…(*); (*) unpubished,; finished by Berthe di Vito-Delvaux
Adolphe BIARENT (1871-1916)

Lied; Désir de mort; Chanson; La lune blanche; Des ballades au hameau
Patrick Delcour, baritone
Diane Anderson, piano
rec. 11-13 Aug 2004, studio de la Mediathèque de la Province de Liège. DDD
ETCETERA KTC 1276 [61:59]


The struggle to find a title for a varied recital of this type is often futile. Either that or (as here) it prompts even more futile critical comment taking issue with the final choice. We should fix attention on the music. But before we do so be warned or reassured: not all these songs are terribly Wagnerian ... apart perhaps from those six by Wagner.

Emile Mathieu stands downstream from Chausson with heavy infusions of Schumann and a little Debussy as well. His four songs are big, two of them in excess of six minutes. They are high romantic essays and merit revival. Mathieu cut quite a dash in Belgium but his production of music was stemmed when he took up the post of director of the Royal Conservatoire, Ghent. His cantatas Hoyoux (1879) and Freyhir (1883) can be heard on Cyprès Musique en Wallonie CYP5683.

Liègeois Sylvain Dupuis taught at his home town conservatory and was very active in the performing sphere. There are symphonies, cantatas, chamber music and mélodies. In these songs we find some Wagnerian elements but let's not overdo the comparison. The heavy Germanic aspect is leavened by a ready lyric talent which stands between the perfumed Debussian voice and the livelier songs of Fauré. Some of them even look forward to Poulenc, as in Matin (tr. 9).

Patrick Delcour has a voice that shows signs of wear. There is a shake and other signs of tiredness. However, allowances made, he gives a good and very intelligently shaped account of these largely unknown songs. He receives sturdy rather than sensitive support from Diane Andersen who tends towards a very narrow dynamic range. The too close recording does not help except in bringing the listener almost intimidatingly close to both artists.

Intriguing to hear the six Wagner songs written in 1840 after the composer left Riga for Paris and just before starting work on The Flying Dutchman. These receive their premiere recording. Two of the songs needed editorial and completion work by the Liège composer Berthe di Vito-Delvaux. Unsurprisingly there are plentiful pre-echoes of Tristan und Isolde and Tannhauser. Leonine triumph and pent-up excitement are well portrayed in the urgent Attente (tr. 14). Less predictably these sometimes fragrant songs reveal how much the French mélodie fleuve was indebted to Wagner.

I have already sung the praises of Adolphe Biarent in my reviews of the two Cyprès recordings of his wonderfully Rimskian orchestral music (see elsewhere on this site review review). Here we have five of his songs. They range from the mesmerising Lied to the swooning exoticism of Désir de mort (a typically Wagnerian theme), to the audaciously wayward harmonies of Chanson. La Lune Blanche is a major discovery with its silvery light and subtly weaving vocal line. The final song Des ballades au hameau is Wagner-stentorian, dignified yet with auguries of doom woven in - and yes the Dies Irae does make an appearance.

As expected Etcetera have done their usual splendid job on the booklet. I have my doubts about the recording image, vivid though it is, but the documentation is excellent.

An unhackneyed and imaginative collection which I recommend to students of the French romantic vocal tradition. There are some fascinating discoveries here and while I have some reservations about the performances they are by no real obstacle to enjoyment.

Rob Barnett

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