One of Hyperion's great and lasting achievements will
be its pioneering of in-depth series built around specific composers,
starting with the groundbreaking complete Schubert songs. This
recording is the fourth in the set of songs by Gabriel Fauré,
compiled to bring deeper insight into the inner world of Fauré's
childhood was spent in the fertile walled gardens at Montgauzy,
a former convent, from which he could hear music from the nearby
chapel. Sights, sounds, scent and colour connected in his memory.
Dans les ruines d'une abbaye captures this romantic spirit.
It is juvenilia, but Fouchécourt brings verve to its jaunty,
playful phrasing. Earlier still is Le papillon et la Fleur.
On its autograph score, Camille Saint-Saëns, Fauré's teacher,
sketched a flower with tiny arms. If Jennifer Smith's diction
is not idiomatic, little is lost because the song isn't much.
Fauré's more individual style blossoms with Aubade. An
extended vocal melody curls lyrically, contrasting with sparse
staccato on the piano part. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt shows why
he's regarded as one of the great interpreters of French song
today. It may be a simple strophic song, but he breathes life
into it by sheer vocal colour. As the dawn breaks, his voice
rises, “Voici le frais matin!” (A fresh morning has broken!)
which repeats a few bars later, “Entr'ouve ta paupière”.
This lovely back and forth between delicacy and warmth gives
the song its gentle charm. How beautifully Fouchécourt holds
and shapes the words that follow, “Ô vierge!” Then the final
high notes of the verse “au doux regard” suddenly leap
out from the line. Fouchécourt hits the note with ease, holding
it until it fuses seamlessly with Graham Johnson's playing.
more illustrative of Fauré's style is the rarely heard Vocalise-étude.
Written to test vocal abilities, it also challenges a singer's
innate understanding of musical form. Without using words, a
singer needs to shape the flow intuitively: there's no help
from the minimalist piano. Fortunately, Geraldine McGreevy's
musicianship is as well honed as her technique. She may be singing
abstractions, but they come across as moving and involving because
her phrasing and intonation is so thoughtfully nuanced. That
is the difference between mere sound and music. She is superb
in Le pays des rêves. Johnson plays the lilting rhythm,
like the rocking of a cradle. Deceptively simple, it connects
the imagery of dreams, both in sleep and in hope. From this
foundation, McGreevy's voice soars. She shapes the long, curving
lines with grace, extending notes so that they seem to dissolve
into space as amorphous as the text itself. “J'ai taillé
dans l'azur les toiles du vaisseau qui nous portera ... .jusqu'au
verger d'or des étoiles”, (I have cleaved the blue sky with
the sails of the ship that will bear us ... to the golden orchard
of the stars). Are we at sea, or in the skies? Is this bliss
or is bliss inherently impossible? “La route incertaine”
permeates the whole song with intriguing ambiguity.
is very much a theme in these songs. If McGreevy's voice is
floral with fresh notes, then Felicity Lott's must include tones
of moss roses, chypre and exotic oriental spices. Orientalism,
as Edward Said noted, symbolised for strait-laced 19th
century artists, an escape into exciting, hidden mystery. From
Baudelaire to Loti, Ravel and Debussy, it allowed the expression
of new ideas in the guise of alien culture. Les roses d'Ispahan
positively drips with luscious sensuality. In his notes,
Johnson compares its “unique undulation” to the gait “of heavily
loaded camels swaying across desert sands”.
plays this vividly, but alas the scent of roses, not camels,
is ultimately more attractive. Darker and more equivocal is
Le parfum impérissable. Here, perfume falls drop by drop
on desert sands. But Fauré stresses “la blessure ouverte”,
the open wound of blighted love. Blood, too, falls “goutte
à goutte”. Lott's pure, clear voice expresses the rapture
of the adoring lover: the piano part expresses grimmer undertones.
is a well chosen compilation which shines light on Fauré's creative
spirit. Johnson, as ever, raises programming choice to the level
of high art. It is a unique and special gift, based on vast
knowledge and musical intelligence. The performers, too, are
well balanced. Stephen Varcoe, for example, brings needed depth
to a collection of songs mainly for high voice. Recommended.