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Claire de lune: French songs of beauty and elegance
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Le Soir (Evening) [4:43]
Ce que je suis sans toi (What I Am without You) [2:22]
Sérénade (Serenade) [4:07]
Viens! Les gazons sont verts! (Come! The Lawns Are Green!) [1:02]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Nocturne [3:34]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Chanson d'avril (April Song) [2:09]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Aurore (Dawn) [2:09]
Claire de lune (Moonlight) [2:49]
Nell [1:33]
Prison [2:14]
Rencontre (Meeting) [1:53]
Notre amour (Our Love) [1:50]
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
L'Invitation au voyage (Invitation to a Journey) [4:17]
Au pays ou se faît la guerre (Gone to the War) [4:41]
Chanson triste (Sad Song) [2:59]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Cinq mélodies populaires grècques (Five Popular Greek Melodies) (1906) [7:17]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Le Rossignol des lilas (The Nightingale in the Lilacs) [1:26]
L'Énamourée (The Adored One) [3:30]
Quand je fus pris au pavillon (When I Was Caught in the Summerhouse) [1:03]
Si mes vers avaient des ailes! (If My Verses Had Wings!) [2:02]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Je te veux (I Want You to Be Mine) [3:57]
La Diva de l'Empire (The Diva of the Empire) [2:58]
Yvonne Kenny (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 19-22 June 1995, St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol
texts and translations included
ABC CLASSICS 476 5330 [66:14]



For generations British singers have excelled as performers of French song (mélodie): from Mary Garden right through to Janet Baker and Felicity Lott. Yvonne Kenny is another member of this illustrious company, as this appealing recital disc recorded in 1995 readily testifies. In her career she has built a significant success in Australia, as reflected by the award of the Order of Australia in 1989 and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sydney ten years later. No wonder this recital CD has been reissued by ABC Classics, the company linked with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It is nicely produced too, with a 32-page booklet that includes informative programme notes as well as texts and translations.
 
One of the most appealing aspects of the disc is how well the recital programme works, from one song on to the next. Listen to the first track and it is hard not to listen through to the end. The performances are intelligently prepared and shaped, with Malcolm Martineau proving an excellent and sympathetic pianist, and there is always a sensitive response to the words, both their sounds and their meanings.
 
In a song recital it is clearly important to get off to a good start. And the Gounod group is quite wonderful; Le Soir, the very first song, is particularly so, with its immediately appealing melodic line. The recorded sound could be more subtle and atmospheric, however; the voice tends to be rather more forward than the piano and has a certain hardness of tone which is not as realistic as the sound can be in the best recitals. Compare, for example, this recording with Janet Baker’s rendition of the Fauré Aurore, with Geoffrey Parsons on Hyperion (CDA66320). It is altogether more atmospheric.
 
The three Duparc songs are nicely paced and beautifully phrased, and the obsessive rhythm that underlies Au pays ou se faît la guerre could not have been more imaginatively done. Many listeners will prefer the sumptuous orchestral versions of these songs, but in truth they are equally viable with piano, or with a man’s voice as an alternative. Gérard Souzay (Testament 1312) is a notable exponent, for example.
 
Whereas the remainder of the recital comprises individual songs, at the centre there is a cycle, albeit a brief one. Maurice Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grècques lasts less than eight minutes in total, yet its music explores a range of moods within the common theme, across a style that is at once thoroughly individual as well as typical of the composer’s musical personality. Rarely can a performer have captured the essence of these songs as well as Yvonne Kenny does here.
 
Reynaldo Hahn was a master of writing for the voice, and perhaps his greatest achievement lay in that direction. Again these performances capture the nature of the style, particularly because the subtle piano writing gains so much from Malcolm Martineau’s sensitive shading of dynamics. The recital ends with Erik Satie’s best known songs, Je te veux and La Diva de l'Empire. They make an imaginative and successful ending just as the Gounod songs made an effective beginning, and they are another reflection of the imaginative artistic judgement that these artists bring to their performance together.
 
Terry Barfoot
 



 


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