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Mélodies Françaises
Full track listing at the end of this review
Gérard Souzay (baritone)/Dalton Baldwin (piano)
rec. various locations, June 1960; July 1962; July 1963; July 1964; September 1966; May 1968
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802007 [4 CDs: 72:34 + 76:59 + 67:06 + 71:49]

Experience Classicsonline

I suspect that many of the releases to date on the Newton Classics label are recordings licensed from major record labels who themselves have no plans to reissue the material. These recordings of mélodies were made by Gérard Souzay for what is now Universal International Music between 1960 and 1968. If Universal has no further use for these recordings that’s a sad indication of the fate that has befallen the once-proud major labels. However, we must be grateful that they’ve allowed Newton Classics to give these performances a new lease of life for it would be nothing short of scandalous were these recordings to remain locked away in the vaults.
Gérard Souzay (1918-2004) was a pupil of the soprano, Claire Croiza and, as Roger Nichols points out in his appreciation of Souzay in the booklet, it was Croiza in particular who instilled in Souzay the importance of words in singing. Throughout these four generously filled discs one hears Souzay enunciate the texts with clarity, understanding and meaning. It was Pierre Bernac, the great baritone, who first encouraged Souzay to take up singing and it’s rather fitting that this should have been the case since Bernac and Souzay between them did so much to establish mélodies as a key element in the art song repertoire. Nowadays there are many gifted exponents of French repertoire - by no means all of them Francophone - and mélodies by Debussy, Fauré, Poulenc and Ravel are regarded as central repertoire but it wasn’t always so and Souzay must be given a great deal of credit for making the wider musical world really sit up and take notice of the art songs of his native land. Here we have no less than 120 examples of his art in what is, I think, a collection of major importance.
Given that so many songs are included in this anthology all the reviewer can do is to point out a few highlights. The whole of the first disc and part of the second is devoted to Fauré. The very first item proves to be a harbinger of what is to follow. La Chanson du pêcheur, a magnificent song, is given a wonderful, intense reading. All the requisite feeling is there but the interpretation is never overstated. And, as we shall discover again and again as we dig deeper into this set, the words are beautifully clear. Les Berceaux offers a demonstration of another of Souzay’s great qualities; his ability to sing a seamless legato line. Here the line rises to a powerful, effortless climax, the voice evenly produced throughout its compass. By contrast Le Secret is delivered with simple eloquence. In this performance everything seems to be just as it should be, surely a classic case of art concealing art.
Further on Souzay gives a marvellous reading of La Bonne Chanson. One item in this cycle that particularly caught my attention was ‘Puisque l’aube grandit’. In this song the vocal line often lies very high but this poses no problems to Souzay. In ‘La lune blanche’ both Souzay and pianist Dalton Baldwin display graceful musicianship and they treat us to a superb rendition of this wonderful song. In the final song in this cycle, ‘L’hiver a cessé’, Souzay conveys perfectly the sense of joyfulness at the change of season.
Mirages is a most subtle collection of songs and Souzay’s interpretation is masterful. His account of ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ is a wonderfully controlled piece of singing; the line is superb and I admired the suppressed intensity of his delivery. He’s just as impressive in ‘Jardin nocturne’. The performance of L’Horizon chimérique is equally fine, not least in his gentle, dignified rendition of ‘Diane, Séléné’.
The remainder of disc two is devoted to Poulenc. These songs require a very different approach to those of Fauré but it seems to me that Souzay is just as successful in them. His excellent diction is often put to the test in some of Poulenc’s tongue-twisters such as ‘Chanson du clair tamis’ and ‘Les gars qui vont à la fête’. In both of these songs a delightful sense of fun is conveyed. I also appreciated Souzay’s narrative ability in ‘Le mendicant’. Two sharply contrasted offerings from the very end of the Poulenc section call for comment. Air vif is another of those will-o’-the-wisp Poulenc songs that require - and here receive - expert articulation from singer and pianist. Yet a few moments later we experience the touching, almost sentimental side of Poulenc in Priez pour paix. Here Souzay sings with simple eloquence; his restraint and sincerity penetrate to the heart of this moving song.
There’s also a great deal to admire in his interpretations of Ravel. These are the latest recordings in the set, dating from 1968. Souzay offers a marvellously nuanced account of Mélodies populaires grecques. Especially noteworthy is the languorous ‘Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques’, where the singer’s calm and seamless legato is exquisite. The songs in Histoires naturelles are well characterised yet with no hint of caricature. It may be invidious to single out any of the individual performances in this cycle but ‘Le Cygne’ is as graceful as it should be, with a marvellous, liquid accompaniment from Baldwin, while Souzay brings all the necessary hauteur to ‘La Pintade’.
At the end of this disc comes a pair of songs that were completely new to me by Jacques Leguerney. The first, ‘Ma douce jouvence est passée’ is a slow, expressive song in which the vocal line unfolds over a piano part that consists of a series of chords. Souzay’s command of line is a decided asset here and he ensures that the song achieves a noble climax. The other Leguerney song is a lively creation calling for just the sort of vivid characterisation that Souzay is so well equipped to provide. His account of Hahn’s L’Heure exquise is, appropriately enough, exquisite. It’s as if Souzay is communing with himself. The soft high notes, all beautifully placed in the head voice, display his marvellous control.
The final disc includes a dozen songs by Duparc, all set down in 1962. Souzay does all of them extremely well. L’Invitation au voyage is a magnificent song and I greatly admired the intensity of Souzay’s performance. Intelligently placed in the programme, the very next song offers a complete contrast for Sérénade Florentine is a soothing lullaby and Souzay’s controlled delivery is just right. There’s a small slip in the track-listing in the booklet, which transposes La Vie antérieure and Lamento; I’ve shown the songs in the order in which they appear on the disc in the list at the end of this review. La Vie antérieure was the last song that Duparc composed. Souzay is quite superb here. His singing in the first stanza and again at the very end of the piece is elevated and dignified while he invests the second and third stanzas with just the right degree of passion. Souzay was a considerable interpreter of Duparc and these recordings are to be treasured.
The collection closes with a number of miscellaneous songs, recorded in 1963. In general these aren’t as significant as compositions as the others in this collection but Souzay and Baldwin still apply all their considerable skills to them. The Gounod pieces are charming and worth hearing while the two Chabrier offerings are delightful. The little Bizet song is full of spirit and is sung with winning impetuosity by Souzay. I can’t recall hearing the Roussel items before and it’s good to hear them done by such a masterful interpreter.  

These discs play for a little short of five hours and they contain an embarrassment of riches. Though the recordings were made over a period of eight years Souzay’s voice is remarkably consistent and he is a completely reliable and instinctive guide to these songs. I mean no disrespect to the many gifted singers from around the world who regularly include mélodies in their recitals but what a delight it is to hear a Francophone singer, and a great one at that, in this repertoire. Throughout the set the contribution of Dalton Baldwin is magnificent and though, inevitably, the listener’s attention is drawn time and again to the singer Baldwin’s pianism is extremely distinguished. All lovers of French music and all connoisseurs of great singing should lose no time in acquiring this set for it represents an unmissable bargain, even without texts and translations - though these are available from the label’s website.
I can do no better than to conclude by quoting the final sentence from the note by Roger Nichols. “Forty years on, Souzay’s singing remains not only a thing of beauty, but an eternal lesson in applying both intelligence and imagination.” Really, that says it all and I venture to suggest that no one who invests in these wonderful discs will find that they disagree with Mr. Nichols.  

John Quinn 

Track listing 
CD 1 [72:34]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
1 La Chanson du pêcheur Op.4 No.1 3’37
Poème d’un jour Op.21
2 I. Rencontre 2’05
3 II. Toujours 1’17
4 III. Adieu 2’13
5 Les Berceaux Op.23 No.1 2’51
6 Le Secret Op.23 No.3 2’19
7 Aurore Op.39 No.1 2’08
8 Fleur jetée Op.39 No.2 1’26
9 La Rose Op.51 No.4 2’10
10 Madrigal Op.35 1’11
Mélodies Op.58 ‘de Venise’
11 I. Mandoline 1’37
12 II. En sourdine 3’14
13 III. Green 1’54
14 IV. À Clymène 2’31
15 V. C’est l’extase 2’50
La Bonne Chanson Op.61
16 I. Une Sainte en son auréole 1’53 
17 II. Puisque l’aube grandit 1’47
18 III. La lune blanche 2’25
19 IV. J’allais par les chemins perfides 1’42
20 V. J’ai presque peur, en vérité 2’06
21 VI. Avant que tu ne t’en ailles 2’37
22 VII. Donc, ce sera par un clair jour d’été 2’24
23 VIII. N’est-ce pas? 2’33
24 IX. L’hiver a cessé 2’43
25 Le Parfum impérissable Op.76 No.1 2’42
26 Arpège Op.76 No.2 2’08
27 Prison Op.83 No.1 2’26
28 Soir Op.83 No.2 2’13
29 Dans la forêt de Septembre Op.85 No.1 3’16
30 La Fleur qui va sur l’eau Op.85 No.2 2’16
31 Le Don silencieux Op.92 2’06
CD 2 [76:59]
La Chanson d’Eve Op.95
1 VI. Eau vivante 1’12
2 IX. Crépuscule 2’38
Le Jardin clos Op.106
3 I. Exaucement 1’19
4 IV. Je me poserai sur ton coeur 1’36
Mirages Op.113
5 I. Cygne sur l’eau 3’24
6 II. Reflets dans l’eau 4’22
7 III. Jardin nocturne 3’00
8 IV. Danseuse 2’02
L’Horizon chimérique Op.118
9 I. La mer est infinie 1’33
10 II. Je me suis embarqué 2’28
11 III. Diane, Séléné 1’58
12 IV. Vaisseaux, nous vous aurons aimés 2’02 
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Chansons villageoises
13 I. Chanson du clair tamis 0’51
14 II. Les gars qui vont à la fête 1’17
15 III. C’est le joli printemps 2’45
16 IV. Le mendiant 3’29
17 V. Chanson de la fille frivole 0’48
18 VI. Le retour du sergent 1’24
19 I. L’Espionne 1’38
20 II. Mutation 0’40
21 III. Vers le sud 1’48
22 IV. Il pleut 1’09
23 V. La Grâce exilée 0’39
24 VI. Aussi bien que les cigales 1’54
25 VII. Voyage 2’59
Le Travail du peintre
26 I. Pablo Picasso 2’32
27 II. Marc Chagall 0’54
28 III. Georges Braque 1’22
29 IV. Juan Gris 2’09
30 V. Paul Klee 0’40
31 VI. Joan Miró 1’20
32 VII. Jacques Villon 2’18
La Fraîcheur et le Feu
33 I. Rayons des yeux 1’06
34 II. Le matin les branches attisent 0’38
35 III. Tout disparut 1’35
36 IV. Dans les ténèbres du jardin 0’24
37 V. Unis la fraîcheur et le feu 1’27
38 VI. Homme au sourire tendre 1’55
39 VII. La grande rivière qui va 0’47
40 Air chanté No.4: Air vif 0’55
41 La Grenouillère 1’53
42 Métamorphose No.1: Reine des mouettes 0’48
43 Priez pour paix 2’30
CD 3 [67:06]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Mélodies populaires grecques
1 I. Chanson de la mariée 1’13
2 II. Là-bas, vers l’église 1’31
3 III. Quel Galant m’est comparable 1’04
4 IV. Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques 2’34
5 V. Tout gai! 0’49
Épigrammes de Clément Marot
6 I. D’Anne qui me jecta de la neige 2’22
7 II. D’Anne jouant de l’espinette 1’52
Histoires naturelles
8 I. Le Paon 4’37
9 II. Le Grillon 3’03
10 III. Le Cygne 2’55
11 IV. Le Martin-pêcheur 2’16
12 V. La Pintade 2’58
Chansons madécasses
13 I. Nahandove 4’40
14 II. Aoua! 3’39
15 III. Il est doux 3’32
Mélodies hébraïques
16 I. Kaddisch 4’41
17 II. L’Énigme éternelle 1’33
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
18 I. Chanson romanesque 2’04
19 II. Chanson épique 3’09
20 III. Chanson à boire 1’41
21 Les grands vents venus d’outre-mer 2’09
22 Sainte 2’22
23 Sur l’herbe 1’48
Jacques LEGUERNEY (1906-1997)
Poèmes de la Pléiade
24 Ma douce jouvence est passée 2’19
25 À son page 1’19
Reynaldo HAHN (1875-1947)
25 L’Heure exquise 2’34
CD 4 [71:49]
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
1 L’Invitation au voyage 4’21
2 Sérénade florentine 2’17
3 La Vague et la Cloche 5’43
4 Extase 3’21
5 Le Manoir de Rosemonde 2’53
6 Lamento 4’18
7 La Vie antérieure 3’43
8 Testament 3’13
9 Phidylé 5’28
10 Chanson triste 3’15
11 Élégie 3’25
12 Soupir 3’34
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
13 L’Absent 3’49
14 Sérénade 3’54
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
15 Mélodie No.5: Les Cigales 2’51
16 Chanson pour Jeanne 3’36
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
17 Chanson d’avril 2’03
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
18 Nocturne M85 4’00
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
19 Poème Op.3 No.3: Le Jardin mouillé 3’07
20 Mélodie Op.20 No.1: Le Bachelier de Salamanque 1’38
Gérard Souzay (baritone)
Dalton Baldwin (piano)
rec. June 1960, Vevey, Switzerland (CD 1: 1-8, 16-25, 28, 31); July 1962 (CD 4: 1-12),
July 1963, The Netherlands (CD 1: 26-27, CD 2: 40-43, CD 3: 21-26, CD 4: 13-20), July 1964, Switzerland (CD 1: 9-15, 29, 30, CD 2: 1-12), September 1966 (CD 2: 13-39), May 1968, Switzerland (CD 3 1-20)