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A tribute to Hugues Cuenod
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)

Première Leçon de Ténèbres pour le Mecredy Saint [21.22]
Instrumental ensemble/Daniel Pinkham, recorded Boston, 1950
Trois chansons pour ténor et clavecin [8.40]
Instrumental ensemble/Daniel Pinkham, recorded Boston, 1950
Motet; Audite omnes et expanescite (c.1700) [9.34]
Instrumental ensemble/Daniel Pinkham, recorded Boston, 1950
Troisième Leçon de Ténèbres pour le Mecredy Saint (17140 [17.01]
Paul Derenne/Yvonne Gouverné Choir/Instrumental ensemble/Jane Evrard, recorded Paris, 1936
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Cantate (1952) [25.56]
New York Concert Choir directed by Margaret Hillis/Instrumental ensemble/Igor Stravinsky, recorded New York, 1952
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Musique maçonnique – Eine Kleine Freimaurerkantate K623 [49.46]
Gerard Souzay, Jean Giraudeau, Hélène Salomé (piano) Choir of the Oratory of Mulhouse/Orchestre Pro Musica/Joseph-Victor Meyer, recorded Paris, 1950
Marcel DELANNOY (1898-1962)

Philippine – Opérette – Complainte de l’homme-serpent (1937) [3.06]
Orchestra/Maurice Jaubert, recorded Paris, 1937
Hugues Cuenod (tenor) with accompanists as above
CASCAVELLE VEL 3080 [65.21 + 69.52]
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Cascavelle has a good track record for reissues of great French artists, of whom a goodly number were actually Swiss by birth. Such was the case with Hugues Cuenod whose recordings here range from his pioneering work of Couperin, through his rewarding experience with Stravinsky’s Cantate, the Mozart Masonic Music and as a bon bouche a sliver of his Delannoy to bring him, and us, up-to-date.

Though he became more known for his longevity then his pioneering work on disc Cuenod was part of that generation of musicians to rediscover their musical heritage in the 1930s. Jane Evrard was one such pioneer, indeed she directs the 1936 Troisième Leçon of Couperin, though of course Nadia Boulanger’s Monteverdi discs (on which Cuenod sang) were very much better known internationally. Cuenod returned to Couperin after the war by recording the Première Leçon in Boston in 1950 and adding the Trois Chansons and the Audite Omnes et Expanescite.

The earlier recording under Evrard however represents real archaeology. Cuenod impresses with his characteristic high tenor – light, elegant, focused, and capable of mezza voce and half voice of great purity. It’s a voice well known and loved at Glyndebourne and to its agility we can add the quality of fine diction. The two-soprano vocalise in the Jad, Caph and Lamed is an exquisite feature of this performance – they’re unnamed choir members but sing with expressive purity – and throughout one senses Evrard’s control and the fresh sincerity of the music making. By 1950 the recording set up had moved to America where the sound is rather pinched though the performances no less pioneering. Certainly his is a highly distinctive voice and in the Plorans there’s a strong hint of a bleat – and critical listeners may also bridle at the very large-sounding harpsichord wielded by Daniel Pinkham, not exactly a Landowska Pleyel but not a model of agility either. Cuenod’s recitatives here take on real life and the voice itself comes close to that of a counter-tenor on more than a few occasions, at which point it can sound rather unsupported. The Trois Chansons are idyllically done – with an impressive and long harpsichord postlude in La Pastorelle - whilst Audite Omnes et Expanescite has a small instrumental ensemble supporting Cuenod, whose wealth of warming colours are a constant delight.

Stravinsky’s Cantate was a work much associated with Cuenod and indeed with Jennie Tourel who sings in this 1952 Columbia under the composer’s direction. The choir sounds highly disciplined under the experienced direction of Margaret Hillis, one of America’s leading choral directors, and one can measure this recording against the later, rather better known one also directed by Stravinsky. In the Ricercare II Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day we can hear Cuenod’s unearthly high tenor to its best advantage as indeed one can in his duet with Tourel in Weston Wind.

Not all of the Masonic Music is desperately captivating but quite a bit is. There’s a small band but the chorus is not of the finest. There’s also rather more hiss here than in the other tracks and a rather steely quality which makes me wonder about the transfer, as steel is not a quality one associates with Cuenod’s Mozart – pliancy, yes, elegance too, but not steel. . His light legato is candidly deployed in O heiliges Band K148/125h, for all that this lasts barely a minute, and he’s joined by the young Souzay later on. Finally there is the Delannoy pendant. It’s forgotten now but Cuenod sang Noel Coward, acted on Broadway in 1929 and performed cabaret with Mireille. It was only much later that he became so identified with Mozart, Stravinsky, the Bach Passions and Schutz. One can hear the immediate suavity of the voice in this extract quite unlike anything we have heard from him timbrally in the strictly classical repertoire. The voice is still light though – and he whistles as every good boulevardier should. Total delight.

The notes are really just a few brief paragraphs of quotations from Cuenod down the years. No texts, unfortunately. In the main these are trusty transfers, the odd hit and miss side join apart; Cuenod will give lasting pleasure and reward, as he always did.

Jonathan Woolf



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