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Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Poème de l’amour op. 48 (1924) [38:13]
Trois Mélodies op. 18 [9:43]
Stances d’Amour et de Rêve op. 29 (1912) [17:57]
Spléens et Détresses op. 38 (1917) [30:22]
Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire op. 45 (1921) [18:12]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Histoires Naturelles (1906) [16:44]
Corinne Orde (soprano); Jonathan Cohen (piano)
rec. unamed location, January 2007-October 2008. DDD
Texts and translations available from www.roddard.com
RODDARD RDD001 [66:11 + 65:24]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Today if Louis Vierne is recognised by the wider musical public at all it is for his skill as one of principal French composers of organ music.

However like many of his contemporaries he had a ‘life beyond the loft’ and undertook writing in a number of other genres, often with great skill.

Apart from several works for vocal soloists and orchestra, and a small corpus of choral and piano music, I have always found his chamber music particularly interesting. This is especially true of the striking Piano Quintet of 1917 – a powerful and affecting work which crystallised his emotions at the time of the deaths of his brother René and his son Jacques during the hostilities.

No stranger to tribulation himself, Vierne was born with congenital cataracts and would legally be classified today as “blind”. However, using a limited peripheral vision he managed to build on an early gift for music – he is reputed to have repeated a Schubert melody, note for note, at the piano when aged only 2. His sight nevertheless did deteriorate further with age and eventually he had to resort to Braille to compose.

Of the lesser explored corners of his repertory are the songs, or melodies. Under consideration on this pair of CDs we have a large slice of his song output; some 48 from a total of 60, including all his mature songs barring the four with harp accompaniment, although some of the melodies remain unpublished.

The Ravel settings have been added since, apart from being close contemporaries and friends, the artists felt there was an attractive link between the last of Vierne’s Baudelaire settings (“Le Hiboux” – “The Owl”) and Ravel’s exploration of birds and insects in the “Histoires Naturelles”. This is one example of the care and thought that has gone into this album.

I had not heard Miss Orde before and hers is a distinctive voice. She is half Belgian and graduated in French studies from the University of London, both of which explains her excellent command of the language – not always a given in this repertoire! There is a fresh, untutored air to her singing, although she did study with mezzo-soprano Ana-Raquel Satre. This may be significant since, in a recent entry on her blog, as well as revealing she is an active choral singer, she also discloses that she has begun to sing occasional alto parts.

As recorded I also found her voice quite dry, without a great deal of lustre, albeit with all the notes and mercifully no vibrato evident – again not a given in this repertoire. Her partner Jonathan Cohen also clearly knows what he is about at the piano but – and here is my caveat – I’m not sure either of them is done any favours by the recorded sound.

As you will see from the header above, no location is vouchsafed other than a mysterious indication that they were made “in private houses with a drawing room grand piano”. I think this only emphasises the dry element in the voice, and a lack of clarity now and then in the accompaniment – albeit that Vierne doesn’t always help in this respect - perhaps thinking as an organist.

Whilst realising the factors involved in selecting such venues I am no special advocate of recording chamber, instrumental, vocal music in churches. That said I do wonder if a small church/chapel setting might have been beneficial to this duo – adding extra warmth, colour and power.

And power is certainly needed at times. In their liner-notes the duo, whilst quoting Bernard Bernard Gavoty’s biography of the composergo on to add,

“Vierne was more elemental, more overtly passionate and, by some gothically tragic streak in his nature, naturally drawn to poems that featured lightning storms, and maelstroms, turmoil and tormented souls.”

For myself I found the duo seemed at greater ease in the more restrained settings, for example in the substantial cycle, the op. 38 mélodies “Spléens et Détresses”, a group of mainly, though not exclusively, rather sad and disturbed Verlaine poems.

Here Orde captures the prevailing mood very well. For instance the tedium of the landscape in the first song ... drifting grey mists, copper-coloured skies, the snow “gleaming like sand” is conjured up very effectively. In the fourth, “Promenade Sentimentale” - perhaps the best of the set - the wounded soul cries out like the sound of birds (teals actually) as they fly across the lonely lake.

The eighth song “Sapho” is more disturbed and rises to a climax describing the poet’s death plunge into the sea. Yet the prevailing mood is immediately re-established in the following “The false fine days”, a treatise on the ravages of memories and their reflection.

The final song “Marine” again rouses strong passions, reflecting not only Gavoty’s Gothic seascapes, but the thoughts of Orde and Cohen when they write: “In some of the sea songs it seems the piano has the principal role as the voice struggles to make the poem heard above the whoosh of the spray, the roar of the wind, the crash of waves and the crack of thunder..”.

So – overall then, whilst being unable to give an unqualified welcome, this is certainly an issue worth exploring, particularly if the repertoire is likely to appeal ... albeit that, in truth, the competition is not numerous at the moment (see Timpani collection). A great pity this since the quality of the music on offer here deserves a much wider audience.

Nevertheless Orde and Cohen are to be congratulated upon their enterprise. Whilst they do not represent the last word on the matter, these discs are worthy of a serious audition and will be of great value to students of French music.

Ian Bailey






 


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