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Bonne Chanson, Belle Époque
Disc 1
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
La bonne chanson (1892-94) [21:38]
Une sainte en son auréole
Puisque l'aube grandit
La lune blanche luit dans les bois
J'allais par des chemins perfides
J'ai presque peur, en vérité
Avant que tu ne t'en ailles
Donc, ce sera par un clair jour d'été
N'est-ce pas?
L'hiver a cessé
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Ariettes oubliées (1903) [15:32]
C'est l'extase langoureuse
Il pleure dans mon coeur
L'ombre des arbres
Chevaux de bois
Gabriel FAURÉ
Spleen [2:16]
Green [1:48]
C'est l'extase langoureuse [2:46]
Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire (1887-89) [24:59]
Le balcon
Harmonie du soir
Le jet d'eau
La mort des amants
Disc 2
Deux Romances [3:56]
Les cloches
Les angélus (1891) [1:59]
Gabriel FAURÉ
La Chanson d'Eve (1906-10) [24:18]
Prima verba
Roses ardentes
Comme Dieu rayonne
L'aube blanche
Eau vivante
Veilles-tu, ma senteur de soleil
Dans un parfum de roses blanches
O mort, poussière d'étoiles
Chansons de Bilitis (1897) [9:22]
La flûte de Pan
La chevelure
Le tombeau des Naiades
Gabriel FAURÉ
Le Jardin Clos (1914) [13:06]
Quand tu plonges tes yeux dans mes yeux
La messagère
Je me poserai sur ton coeur
Dans la nymphée
Dans la pénombre
Il m'est cher, Amour
Inscription sur le sable
Corinne Orde (soprano)
Jonathan Cohen (piano)
rec. September 2005 to March 2006, location unspecified.
RODDARD RDD000 [68:51 + 52:31]


Since a few years ago I can no longer think of the phrase ‘Belle Époque’ without that throwaway pun of Graeme Garden’s about what to ask for at La Troisième République butcher’s shop: “I’ll have a pound of belly pork, please…” With that out of the way, we can get down to business.

The ‘Belle Époque’ or ‘Beautiful Era’ can be said to represent that part of the late 1800s up to the beginning of the First World War which was inhabited by rich and aristocratic patrons of the arts who haunted the salons of Paris. Vocal music, mélodies and romances were a popular part of this salon repertoire, as was operetta. The literary aspects of this fin de siècle wave of fashion in the arts also brought symbolist writers such as Paul Verlaine and Baudelaire into contact with composers such as Fauré and Debussy, and collaborations and the flow of ideas between such artists was inevitable.

The concept of the salon is central to this release, as the informative but song-text free booklet notes reveal: “The recordings on this album are not studio or concert-hall recordings. Instead they attempt to represent a salon performance. They were made in a private house with a domestic-sized piano and a single pair of microphones.” Such an unsympathetic environment for the singing voice might seem to be a brave choice, but listening to this recording and I get the distinct impression that some tweaking has gone on in production. The piano sounds convincingly domestic, a little woolly in the treble, tubby in the middle and light in the bass. I shall probably risk the ire of some unnamed technician or producer, but Corinne Orde’s soprano seems to have been ‘helped’ a little with some added reverb – admittedly kept well down so that you might not notice if you’re not really listening, but ultimately resulting in an interesting chimera; a singer in the Sydney Opera bathroom, and a piano in the broom cupboard. The technical problems don’t stop here either. Take that funny noise at 0:28-0:30 in L’ombre des arbres and every sound technician will probably tell you that some kind of socket been put under stress. I’m sure I hear a car revving outside at one or two points, and not all of the edits are that wonderful either – 0:49 into Debussy’s Green, come on. The piano sound is very strange at times as well – just listen to the opening to the subsequent Spleen and tell me where all that funny phasing is coming from – there are a number of places where it sounds like Harold Budd’s kind of piano. I don’t want to carp on however, and promise to take deep breaths and find my inner triangle henceforth.

Presented with such a wealth of material, I usually gravitate toward the songs I know the best, having heard many performances of works such as Debussy’s Il pleure dans mon Coeur and the Chansons de Bilitis, the kinds of repertoire which is bread and butter to the singing department at the Conservatoire for whom I fix all of the lunchtime concerts. Despite my tendency to be pedestrian about quirky production details, duo Orde and Cohen aren’t half bad. Even putting up with the woolly piano, you can hear that Jonathan Cohen is no hack when it comes to accompanying, and even though the two musicians sound as if they are in separate rooms their synergy is close and comfortingly sympathetic. Corinne Orde’s voice may not be in the top league, and has a silvery edge over a slightly jowly colouration, but as she states, “A large or heavy voice would probably not marry well with the underlying liquid and delicate piano textures [in Debussy]” and in this we agree. Having become used to her sound, and accepted any fragilities, one starts to appreciate her nimble way around the tricky melodic lines in something like Fauré’s Green – she stays impeccably in tune the whole time, and almost entirely avoids reaching toward the notes, hitting them on the nose with considerable accuracy; a quality which I find beyond price. I’m not so keen on that vibrato which develops halfway through notes, but on the subject of Orde’s vibrato I find its lightness appropriate to the repertoire, and as she uses it sensitively, selectively and expressively I can’t really grumble on a point of taste. Her French is a little straight, but reasonably idiomatic.

There are a number of recordings of songs by Fauré, notably the excellent ongoing Hyperion series with Graham Johnson accompanying a variety of singers. The collected Mélodies of Debussy sung by Elly Ameling and others on EMI are also worth seeking out if you are looking for a complete set. Even with this two CD release coming in at something around mid-price I can’t give it a full recommendation, but if the theme and philosophy behind the programming and production attract then it certainly won’t have you running for the hills with the screaming horrors.

Dominy Clements


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