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Ernest CHAUSSON (1855–1899)
Poème de l’amour et de la mer, Op. 19
1. I. La fleur des eaux [10:54]
2. II. Interlude (piano solo) [3:00]
3. III. La mort de l’amour [13:59]
4. Sérénade italienne, Op. 2, No. 5 [1:48]
5. Le colibri, Op. 2, No. 7 [3:21]
Henri DUPARC (1848–1933)
6. Phidylé [5:37]
7. Le manoir de Rosemonde [2:45]
8. Soupir [3:20]
9. Sérénade [3:01]
10. La vie antérieure [4:08]
11. Extase [3:27]
12. Élégie [2:53]
13. L’invitation au voyage [4:42]
14. Testament [3:18]
15. Chanson triste [3:31]
Jean-François Lapointe  (baritone); Louise-Andrée Baril (piano)
rec. Église Saint-Benoît de Mirabel, 18–21 September 2006
Sung texts and English translations enclosed
ANALEKTA AN29924 [71:14]


Experience Classicsonline

A few years ago I had for review a disc with the British-born baritone Konrad Jarnot, singing Duparc and Ravel. In the latter case it was the first ever recording of the song-cycle Sheherazade sung by a baritone and with piano accompaniment. On the present disc we meet another highly accomplished baritone, Canadian Jean-François Lapointe, in similar repertoire. The choice of Duparc songs is roughly the same – there isn’t much to choose between them. Instead of Ravel he sings Chausson’s cycle Poème de l’amour et de la mer, which is also normally sung by female singers and with orchestra.

To start with the Chausson it is a composition he worked on for about a decade and its lush and atmospheric orchestration is really exquisite, foreboding Debussy. I had some doubt as to how much it loses when being performed with piano only, and naturally one forsakes a lot of colour. With a less sensitive pianist this would be damaging indeed but Louise-Andrée Baril plays the piano part with such a superb sense for nuance and shading that one almost forgets that an orchestra ever entered the reckoning. Even the interlude, for orchestra only, is so marvellously played that it could be conceived for piano in the first place. And the first performance of the work, in Brussels about two months before its official premiere in Paris, was in the piano version with the composer at the piano and the tenor Désiré Demest in the solo part.

Hearing Jean-François Lapointe one initially believes he too is a tenor; at least he has all the hallmarks of a baryton-martin: light, flexible, smooth as silk and with a beautiful half-voice. His phrasing is constantly musical and he manages to make the ebb and flow of the music come alive. What he also possesses is a top register which at forte makes me believe that he might have a future as a Heldentenor. It is that bright penetrating sound of a good Siegmund and this gives an edge to his readings that creates a kind of Wagnerian feeling. Not a bad feeling, actually, since Chausson was deeply influenced by Wagner. He saw the complete Ring in Munich in 1879, at the age of 24. He saw Tristan the next year and attended the premiere of Parsifal in Bayreuth in 1882. So it was, at least initially, Wagner’s ghost that hovered over him while he worked on his song-cycle and no doubt Tristan’s ‘eternal melody’ is part of the song-line, built as much on linguistic principles as on musical.

To be sure, the impact of Lapointe’s penetrating ‘Spitzentöne’ may at times be too intense, too dramatic – the score is, after all, rather perfumed – but Carol Farley, a great Lulu and Salome, is also dramatically triggered on a probably long deleted ASV disc. But listen to the third stanza of the first song: Et mon Coeur s’est levé par ce matin d’été…, how enticingly soft and beautiful is his delivery – and he means what he sings! I won’t scrap my orchestral recordings of the cycle but I will surely return to this version too.

He is also superbly lyrical and sweet in the two songs from Chausson’s first cycle of melodies, composed in 1882 just before he set to work on Poéme de l’amour. 

Combining Chausson with the songs of the somewhat older Henri Duparc seems sensible, since they were close friends and Poéme de l’amour … was dedicated to Duparc. Contrary to Chausson, Duparc was granted a long life – he died in 1933 at the age of 85 – but then he had been silent as a composer for almost fifty years. He was highly self-critical and was struck by illness and what he left as his musical oeuvre was 17 songs composed between 1868 and 1884. He did return to some of them, revised and even orchestrated some of them, but that’s all. Still this seemingly meagre output has always been regarded as the essence of French melodies and in the canon of writers of art-songs he is mentioned by the side of the great names. But while Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Fauré and Debussy have reached a wide audience and become ‘popular’, Duparc’s songs have remained the field of the connoisseur. And it is true that they take some repeated listening to yield up. His melodic invention is exquisite but it is so closely linked to the words that one needs to close-read the poems to fully appreciate it. You rarely hear someone humming a Duparc melody, but especially his earliest songs could well stand a chance to secure permanent places in recital programmes. Soupir and Sérénade, both from 1869 and from his earliest published group of songs, are certainly accessible, so is Élégie and the Baudelaire setting L’invitation au voyage, which, together with Phidylé and Chanson triste are the songs most frequently encountered in recital and on record. Most of the songs are soft and inward and Lapointe and Baril lavish just as much beauty and sensitivity here as they did on Chausson. I praised Konrad Jarnot three years ago (review) and I don’t withdraw an iota of that, but readers with a sympathy for French mélodies should give the present disc a chance too – but be prepared for a Wagnerian hero on top of the smooth baryton-martin.

Göran Forsling 



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