Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Chansons de mer, Op. 75 (1902) [45:52]; La nuit (1896) [3:42]; Tristesse infinie (1907) [2:34]; Nuit mystérieuse (1905) [3:05]; Dormez, Mèlité (1916) [3:25]; Oublieras-tu que d’heures douces… (undated) [3:52]
Michael Bundy (baritone); Jeremy Filsell (piano)
rec. St. George’s School, Ascot (Chansons de mer) 28 -29 August 2003; Dulwich College (other songs) 20-21 July 2005
Notes included; texts downloadable from Naxos. DDD
NAXOS 8.572345 [62:53]
Widor is renowned for his organ music and some people know his Conte d’Avril and the symphonies. But he wrote copiously in almost all forms, including opera, although melodies would probably be the last area one would associate with him. Yet, there are almost one hundred songs in his output, of which we have an extended cycle and five individual songs on this disc.
Both the strength and weakness of Widor’s songs lies in their attention to structure. In Chansons de Mer the overall tonal layout makes for a very interesting group, far more interesting than a random gathering. On the other hand, the same attention to detail within an individual song gets in the way of the underlying emotion. The end result is mixed in terms of interest.
The fourteen Chansons de Mer are structurally built around four of the songs: the first, La mer, the fifth, La petite coulevre bleu, the tenth, Les Nuages and the last, Repos éternel. In the first the vastness of the sea is evoked as a counterpart to the vastness of human emotions. The result is rather muted, although there are some individual gems in the Chansons. Petite coulevre is perhaps the best of all the songs, telling a tale of betrayal and disappointment. In Les Nuages, which is one of the most dramatic of all the songs, there is not much about the sea. Instead the East is evoked as a place to flee life’s troubles. The last song tells of the narrator’s wishes for his tomb and for how his friends should feel at his last moments. This sums up the cycle well poetically and Widor rises to the occasion musically with a quote from his Suite Latine.
The other five songs on the disc mostly come from later in Widor’s output than the Chansons de Mer and tend to be longer and slightly less lyrical. La nuit is quite profound and the change in mood from ladies on the grass to the dead who can love no more is well done. Tristesse infinie is full of nostalgia, while Nuit mystérieuse is reminiscent of Duparc, although not quite in his league. Dormez, Mèlité is the most expressive of the five, while Oublieras-tu que d’heures douce is a slight disappointment.
I was well acquainted with Jeremy Filsell as an organist, but not nearly as well as a pianist. In his role of accompanist he is extremely subtle, which is just what these works both as poems and songs require. Michael Bundy is blessed with just the right type of voice for this repertoire and a great ability to shape a song. His one fault is that he sometime fails to differentiate sufficiently in style between one song and another, although some might lay that at the feet of the composer. The recording quality is quite notable - the sound at St. George’s School adds to the overall effect, although the same cannot be said for Dulwich Hall. Overall, this is a somewhat uneven production, but one in which the rarity of the repertoire overrides other concerns.
Interesting, if not fascinating music, from an obscure corner of the composer’s workshop. Very sensitively performed overall.