Satie’s Socrate - French Song Cycles - Hugues Cuénod
Jacques de MENASCE (1905 – 1960)
1. Deux Lettres d’Enfants (1954) [2:29]
Lettre de Béatrice
Lettre de Christian
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841 – 1894)
from Six Mélodies (1890)
2. Les Cigales [2:49]
3. Villanelles des petits canards [2:08]
4. Pastorales des cochons roses [4:33]
5. Ballade des gros dondons [3:11]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892 – 1955)
Saluste du Bartas (1941)
6. Le Château du Bartas [1:10]
7. Tout le long de la Baïse [1:26]
8. Le départ [1:06]
9. La promenade [1:24]
10. Nérac en fête [0:46]
11. Duo [2:11]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869 – 1937)
12. Le Bachelier de Salamanque (1919) [1:40]
Francis POULENC (1899 – 1963)
13. ’C’ (1943) [2:43]
14. A sa guitare (1935) [2:47]
Erik SATIE (1866 – 1925)
Trois Mélodies (1916)
15. Daphënéo [1:19]
16. La Statue de Bronze [1:53]
17. Le Chapelier [1:10]
18. Air du Rat [0:49]
19. Spleen [0:47]
20. La Grenouille américaine [1:04]
21. Air du Poète [0:49]
22. Chanson du Chat [0:47]
Socrate. Drame Symphonique avec voix (1919)
23. I. Portrait de Socrate (Le Banquet) [5:52]
24. II. Bords de L’Ilissus (Phédon) [7:37]
25. III. Mort de Socrate (Phédon) [16:00]
Hugues Cuénod (tenor); Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
rec. 1977 or prior. Published in 1985
French texts and English translations enclosed
NIMBUS NI 5027 [68:40]
In June 1988 I was lucky to attend a song recital at the Wigmore Hall with the legendary Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod. The recital was specifically announced as his 86th birthday celebration! He looked at least thirty years younger, slim and vital, and his voice was as fit as it was fifty years earlier. It was never a very sonorous voice, rather white and almost androgynous but marvellously expressive and with pinpoint enunciation. One year earlier he had made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, singing the Emperor Altoum in Turandot – the oldest debutant in the house. Sixty years before the Wigmore Hall recital he had made his first appearance on a stage, in the first jazz opera, Jonny spielt auf. A remarkable career! Even more remarkable is the fact that he is still amongst us, living in the Château de Lully in the Vaud region in Switzerland, recently turned 108! There is a photo of him on Wikipedia, taken in February this year. One can’t believe he is that old.
I have nowhere been ably to find recording dates but since it is an analogue recording one can suspect that it was set down some time before the publishing and copyright year 1985. Cuénod’s voice is however exactly as I remember it from the Wigmore Hall recital. Besides the opportunity to hear him at whatever age, the programme is also very interesting. Apart from the Poulenc and Satie songs the rest is un-hackneyed repertoire but should definitely be heard more often. They are mostly light-hearted and humorous, often rhythmically enticing and many of them should be attractive encores after a serious song recital.
Jacques de Menasce isn’t a household name today but the two songs performed here give an indication that his oeuvre could be worth seeking out. They were first performed in 1954 by Cuénod and are settings of ‘thank-you’ letters that he received from the children of his friend and composer colleague Daniel Lesur. There is Poulencian esprit about them. Chabrier regarded the four songs sung here as his ‘Barnyard Suite’. They are utterly amusing portraits of animals in the countryside and were written while the composer was living in the country and thus was familiar with the special atmosphere there. Melodically appealing they have something in common with Chabrier’s piano compositions, which are also too rarely heard. In the last of the songs, ‘Ballad of the Fat Turkey-Cocks’ he even quotes Don Giovanni’s serenade from Mozart’s opera in the ritornellos. Honegger, with whom Cuénod cooperated, is basically known for rather stern music but in this song-cycle about Saluste du Bartas, he is in his sunniest mood. The songs are short and Cuénod sing them with obvious relish. Also Roussel lets his hair down in the song from his op. 20. He wrote quite a few songs and there exist recordings with singers like Mady Mesplé, Gérard Souzay, Elly Ameling and others, including Claire Croiza, who recorded several of them in 1928 with the composer at the piano.
The two Poulenc songs are in a more serious vein. ‘C’ is Louis Aragon’s reminiscences of May 1940 when so many French people fled before the German invasion. It is one of the most beautiful French songs and Cuénod sings it with great warmth. A sa guitarre was written for Yvonne Printemps to be sung – accompanied by a harp - in a play by Edouard Bourdet. Cuénod sings with an exquisite legato.
The rest of the disc belongs to Erik Satie and here Cuénod is superb, whether in the cabaret style in which Satie often excels, or in the witty miniatures in Ludions. The major piece, with a total playing time of almost half an hour, is the Drame Symphonique - Socrate. As the liner-notes point out it is neither symphonic nor very dramatic but it has a special fascination even so. It was written for four solo sopranos and a chamber orchestra but at the first performances it was sung by a solo voice, often a soprano but at least once by a tenor with Satie at the piano. In other words this way of performing it was authorized by the composer. I can’t say honestly that I like it very much but it grows on you. I have owned this disc for more than twenty years and returned to it from time to time but often stopped listening before Socrate. Now for the review I forced myself to play it straight through and realized that without being a masterwork it is very special.
Geoffrey Parsons makes the most of the accompaniments and the Nimbus recording is worthy of the occasion. It is hard to imagine more idiomatic singing of these songs.
Hard to imagine more idiomatic singing of these songs