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Maurice DELAGE (1879–1961)
Quatre poèmes hindous (1912/1913) [8:45]
Deux fables de La Fontaine (1931) [6:23]
Maktah (berceuse phoque) (Chant de la jongle 2) (1935) [2:23]
Trois poèmes désenchantés (1957) [5:30]
Sept haï–kaïs (1925) [5:04]
Maurice JAUBERT (1900–1940)
Saisir (1940) [12:47]
Trois sérénades (1928) [4:52]
Elpénor (1927) [2:40]
Chants sahariens, 5 poèmes touaregs (1924) [6:49]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855–1899)
Chanson perpétuelle, oip.37 (1898) [6:53]
Felicity Lott (soprano), Jean–Claude Bouveresse (violin)
Kammerensemble de Paris/Armin Jordan
rec. 11–13 February and 19–21 December 1994, Radio–France. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5221282 [60:02]
Experience Classicsonline

Maurice Delage’s name has been kept before the public by one work – the Quatre poèmes hindous and for years it was the recording made by Janet Baker and the Melos Ensemble in the 1960s on Oiseau Lyre which not only introduced us to this composer but kept his flag flying (still available on Decca 4751612 (part of a boxed set) or on a single disk Philips 4767091). It was a revelation to discover this work and one wondered about his other music but apart from the very occasional radio broadcast of  the Sept haï–kais I heard nothing until CDs started appearing containing other works of his. Now there is a representative amount of his music available for us to be able to see, and hear, just what a fine and interesting composer Delage is.
This performance of the Quatre poèmes hindous is full of sensuality, the rich melodic line sounding lighter than in Baker’s recording for Lott is a soprano and, of course, doesn’t have the rich mezzo sound. But this makes for an interesting comparison and both versions are equally valid for this is music which oozes a perfect voice above all else and both singers have that.
Delage’s Sept haï–kais is a big work, in the scale of things, even though no song plays for longer than 60 seconds. These songs aren’t the hot house flowers in the manner of the Quatre poèmes hindous being perfect miniatures with everything inessential stripped away and only the purest lines of music are left remaining.
The other three Delage pieces are even smaller! The Deux fables de La Fontaine have a charm and delicacy while Maktah (berceuse phoque) – the second of three Chant de la jungle – returns us to the mood of the Hundu Poems. In many respects the late Trois poèmes désenchantés may be the best of the lot! I’ve only ever heard these with piano accompaniment but with ensemble they are beautiful, if painful, outpourings. They’re richly nostalgic songs, easy going yet vital at the same time. All these pieces are absolutely beautiful and are well worth getting to know, especially in such fine performances as these.
It’s worth noting that Delage was a singular master of the song cycle with small ensemble and he studied with Ravel – indeed, was Ravel’s only pupil – and I often wonder if it was he who influenced Ravel in his Trois poèmes de Stephane Mallarmé (1913) and Chanson madécasses (1925/1926) (both of which were also on Janet Baker’s Oiseau Lyre LP).
Maurice Jaubert is a name which will be familiar to lovers of French cinema of the 1930s for he was one of the leading composers of music for film, working with René Clair, Marcel Carné and Julien Duvivier, amongst others, and his spare orchestral scores provided a contrast with the opulent scores then being written in Hollywood. He was killed in combat just before the French surrender in 1940. Filmmakers have never forgotten his work and as recently as 1995 his music was used in an episode of the TV series Un siècle d'écrivains.
Like the Delage pieces, Jaubert’s songs are short and to the point but they inhabit a totally different sound world and are more varied and emotional. The five songs which make up Saisir contain many different moods and colours. The second song, for instance, is a wild and fast scherzo which is followed by a static setting celebrating your large eyes, and the fourth is a jaunty, trotting cart of a thing. A fascinating variety of pieces indeed. Saisir was written shortly before the composer’s death and perhaps there’s a certain melancholy to them at times, but there’s certainly no sense that the composer was worried about anything, such as being in imminent danger of loosing his life, although the final song has the feeling of a cortège about it.
The Trois sérénades was written at the advent of the talkies and thus the birth of real music for film and it was at this moment that Jaubert discovered the cinema. These songs are back to the hot house variety of composition, highly flavoured and colourful with a brevity which is quite breathtaking when one realizes what the composer has said in his music. Elpénor consists of two songs, the second of which is a jaunty setting for a pilot! With the Chants sahariens we’re back to the French obsession with the east and Delage’s domain but here the music isn’t richly exotic rather a rough–hewn grass roots level look at orientalism.
These brief excursions into the music of Delage and Jaubert show us two important composers whose work has passed us by, but there is, thankfully, more for us to investigate on other disks.
It was a lovely idea to complete this recital with Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle for it continues the theme of melancholy with the story of a woman who has been abandoned. This was Chausson’s last completed work for a few months later he died in a freak accident when he lost control of his bicycle, as he was riding on a downhill slope, and crashed headlong into a wall and was killed instantly. Several of his handful of works are well known to the public – such as the Poème de l'amour et de la mer, op.19 (1891/1892) and the Poème, op.25  for violin and orchestra – and this is a marvellous example, and reminder, of his art.
This is a fine, interesting, and very enjoyable disk. Felicity Lott sings with a purity of line which is gorgeous to listen to. singing the music simply but yet with a wealth of emotion and expression. She is ably accompanied by the Kammerensemble de Paris under the discreet direction of Armin Jordan. The sound is very clear and there’s a good balance between singer and instrumentalists. The notes are not as full as I would have liked, when you’re listening to music you don’t know well, or have had little contact with, you do need some help along the way, but they do give information, no matter how brief, about the works and their creators. There’s no text or translation of any of the settings but Lott’s diction is good and if you know French then you’ll be able to follow what is going on, if not, just sit back and enjoy the sounds!
Bob Briggs



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