This recital by Hugues Cuenod and Geoffrey Parsons, dating from
1977, preserves musicianship of the highest quality in performances
of music that is effervescent and droll, or plangent and deep.
It helps that the selected songs are, in the main, less well-known.
Not many will have heard of Jacques de Menasce, for example,
whose witty children’s ‘thank you’ letters are based on texts
he actually received from the children of fellow composer Daniel
Lesur. How charming is the repetition of ‘…et vous en remercions
beaucoup.’ in the second, which is suffused with Poulencian
wit. In the Chabrier settings one admires the balance of pianism
and vocal qualities equally, which both need to function if
these ‘barnyard’ settings are fully to work. Fortunately, as
noted, Parsons is fully equipped and his deft pianism plays
its considerable share in the performance’s success. The halting
villanelle for the ducks is a winner, the rosy pigs are quite
mellifluous – maybe unexpectedly – and the movement for the
turkey-cocks quotes Mozart. What more could one want?
Honegger’s Saluste du Bartas, composed in 1941, consists
of six very brief settings which are villanelles again, this
time by Pierre Dedat de Monlaur. The first starts off like a
Swiss Percy Grainger but they’re, despite the brevity, compacted
with style and élan, notably the glittering turmoil of the fifth
setting. These are well worth a place on the recital stage,
but difficult, one assumes, to programme satisfactorily. It’s
certainly not fanciful to hear the tidal waves pounding through
the sole Roussel setting, which talks of an admiral’s daughter.
Poulenc’s ‘C’ wears its hints of medieval balladry adeptly,
espousing a continuum of suffering from ancient times to nearer
our own, conveyed with rich directness, so too the uncanny imitations
of a guitar in the companion poem.
The rest of the disc is given over to Satie. There’s salty wit
in the central setting of La Statue de Bronze from Trois
Mélodies. In the Ludions songs – with the first called
Air du Rat you can’t go far wrong, in French or English
– one also gets a Yankee university song and plenty of saucy
badinage all round, in fact. Socrate. Drame Symphonique avec
voix (1919) is meatier stuff obviously, in three movements,
the last of which lasts 16 minutes, which is significantly more
than the first two combined. The first part sets a eulogy of
Socrates by his favourite pupil, Alcibaides. The second is a
dialogue between Socrates and another of his pupils, Phaedrus.
The final section is the death of Socrates in the form of a
monologue by Phaedro, another philosopher. The music is highly
effective, the second movement in particular evoking conversational
and noble qualities with considerable subtlety of expression.
The final movement is the cumulative centre of gravity though,
a slow recessional, the ebbing away of Socrates’ life by suicide
– the final movements mirrored by the ascent of the voice (perfect
for Cuenod of course, and his extraordinary disembodied tone)
and the slow slipping away of the piano’s bass figures. Deeply
impressive, though not at all indulged or lachrymose.
Thankfully full texts and translations are provided, though
Cuenod’s diction is excellent, as is the recording quality.
Specialists and generalists on the prowl for unfamiliar French
repertoire should (re)acquaint themselves with this fine disc.
review by Goran Forsling