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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
The Complete Songs – Volume 1

Les Matelots; Seule!; Chanson du pêcheur; Barcarolle; Tarantelle; Au bord de l’eau
Les berceaux; Au cimetière; Larmes; Cinq melodies "de venise"; Pleurs d’or; Accompagnement; La fleur qui va sur l’eau; Mirages; C’est la paix;
L’horizon chimérique.
Felicity Lott (soprano); Jennifer Smith (soprano); Geraldine McGreevy (soprano);
Stella Doufexis (soprano); John Mark Ainsley (tenor); Christopher Maltman (baritone); Stephen Varcoe (baritone); Graham Johnson (piano)
Recorded 2002-2004
HYPERION CDA67333 [68:47]

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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 by topic.

Johnson’s voluminous 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.

"…he reminds 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 throttle."

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.

Kevin Sutton

see also review by Ian Lace February RECORDNG OF THE MONTH

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