If Graham Johnson is
not the finest living accompanist -
which he is - then he is certainly the
most interesting and well read commentator
on the great body of song literature
in the world - which he also is. Mr.
Johnson and his friends at Hyperion
have set about recording yet another
multi-volume survey of the world’s great
songs. This time the subject is Fauré,
and he has chosen a most interesting
and clever way to present the material,
that is, by grouping the songs together
essay in the program booklet is a work
of art in itself, deftly describing
the composer’s on-again-off-again song
composing habits, his methods of creation
and his penchant for setting poems on
the subject of water. Add to this a
fascinating timeline of Fauré’s
life and work and extensive comments
about each individual song or cycle.
These notes are so well written that
they could serve as a term paper for
a graduate student. From pages of interesting
reading, one sentence simply jumped
off the page for its dead-on-ness. I
think it worth quoting here.
us that music is not, as we are
often told, a business, but an art.
Fauré’s music seems to encourage
each one of us to carry on "doing
one’s thing", trusting somehow
that the small voice and the great
heart will hold their own. After
all, for the sake of our sanity
alone, we have to continue to believe
that there are still people in the
world who would prefer to hear one
tenor gently intoning Fauré’s
Clair de lune than three
singing O sole mio at full
Brilliant, simply brilliant.
And so is the music-making
on this disc. All of the songs are presented
in their original keys, and thus the
all-star roster of singers. Each singer
is very fine but special mention is
due the two baritones, Stephen Varcoe
and Christopher Maltman. Varcoe’s warm
and rich voice is perfect for Mirages
and Maltman’s delivery of L’horizon
chimérique, the composer’s
opus ultima, is breathtakingly beautiful.
John Mark Ainsley’s
heart-breaking rendition of Au cimitière
is stunning in its emotional sincerity.
That the tenor can keep us on the edge
of losing control without ever crossing
the line is fantastic. One truly believes
that he is standing at the grave of
his best friend.
The ladies fare equally
well, and there is one very pleasant
surprise in the charming Tarantelle,
sung by Mmes. McGreevy and Doufexis.
I was also quite impressed by Jennifer
Smith’s warm, embracing tone, this being
the first time that I had heard her
sing. Felicity Lott is a true artist
in the splendid Paul Verlaine settings
in opus 58. I was a bit surprised however
to hear a bit of steel in her voice
that I had not been accustomed to hearing
before. Her rather bright, pointed timbre
was a bit off-putting at first, but
then the sheer artistry of her singing
and her interpretive gift settles in,
and one forgets instantly that there
might be a vocal issue or two.
Graham Johnson is without
peer at the piano, providing not only
sensitive and flawless accompaniment,
but also a partnership with the singers,
adding the extra drama to the texts
in the way that a great score enhances
a film. Couple this with his wonderfully
written and extensive program essay
and you have an absolute winning combination.
No lover of song should
be without this one. Highly recommended.
see also review
by Ian Lace February RECORDNG
OF THE MONTH