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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Mel BONIS (1858-1937)
L'oeuvre vocale: 23 mélodies
Pourriez-vous pas me dire?; Sur la plage; Viens; Vilanelle; Viola; Sauvez-moi de l'amour; Songe (vers le pur amour); Le chat sur le toit; MadrigalEpithalame; Le ruisseau; Dès l'aube; Mirage; Chanson d'amour; Sorrente; La mer; Reproche tendre; Immortelle tendresse; Elève-toi mon âme; Noël Pastorale; Regina Coeli; A Suzanne; L'oiseau bleu.
Brigitte Balleys (mezzo); Valérie Gabail (soprano); Eric Cerantola (piano); Astrid Pfarrer (mezzo, violin); Marc Jaermann (cello)
rec. Studio Guy Fallot, Lausanne, 5-7 Sept 2005. DDD
DORON DRC 5026 [68:04]


Mel Bonis, another French unknown rating our attention, came of non-musical and sternly religious parents. Intercession by a relative allowed her to attend the Paris Conservatoire when her musical talents emerged. There she studied with Guiraud, Bazille and Franck. Shortly after leaving the Conservatoire she married a 48 year old widowed factory owner. He had no interest in music but she continued to write alongside bearing him four children. There are some three hundred works, three piano quartets, piano and organ solos, melodies and some choral and orchestral works. They're listed at the Bonis website.
 
The Great War bore off most of the musical world's interest in late-romantic effusions. Romance had taken a fearful battering and what had it done for the families and friends and lovers of tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen never to return home?
 
Bonis however knew her art and continued with determination to write songs that are consonant, lyrical and naturally singable. That is exactly what we hear on this precious collection. For Bonis there was no mediation with jazz and dissonance; no compromise with the Second Viennese school. The way may have been clear for the young turks such as Les Six and in England, Bliss, Lambert and Goossens but for Bons there was only the lyrical grail.
 
The Bonis songs here may, in general, lack the profundity of Duparc and Chausson but they have great charm and a beguiling and coaxing quality. Occasionally she hints at folk-music as in Viens. Then again there are echoes of operetta as in Sauvez-moi de l'amour. Songe however stands out as a superb dreamy distillation of slow pulsed summer with just a hint of operatic fire. Le Chat sur le toit is a witty song in which the ivory polish skitter of the cat's claws can be heard in the original piano part - a touch of Lord Berners here.
 
Madrigal and Epithalame are songs for three voices in which the well known Balleys and the to me unknown Gabail are joined by Astrid Farrer. Le Ruisseau is for just two voices and the urgency of the text is well painted in. Added to this is that liquid joie de vivre again influenced by operetta. The same can be heard in the skip-and-canter Iberian charm of Chanson d'amour. Elève-toi mon âme has a roundedly melancholy cello obbligato to join the piano and Balleys. Noël Pastoral is rather ordinary and Regina Coeli is sickly sweet nothwithstanding the religious incense. 
 
Amid the songs there are two breathlessly ardent and even lightly humorous mélodrames (Sorrente and A Suzanne) in which the piano is joined by a female speaker, presumably Balleys. Whenever I have encountered melodrama I have been impressed by the concordance of words and music and their power to magnify the effect of each other. So it is here. Presumably Sorrente was originally for voice with orchestra – certainly sounds that way. More please.
 
The words of the songs are printed in full but there are no translations into English or any other language.
 
A mixed bag when it comes to accomplishment and staying power. There are some extremely fine songs here which deserve counting in the company of the best from Chausson and Duparc. Equally there are a number of tawdry and even humdrum items.
 
I now want to hear the violin sonata and the piano quartets.
 
Rob Barnett
 

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