Louis VIERNE (1870 – 1937)
Le poème de l’amour, op.48 (1924) [49:22]
Psyché, op.33 (1914) [7:34]
La ballade du désespéré, op.61 (1931) [14:41]
Michael Bundy (baritone), Jeremy Filsell (piano)
rec. 20-21 July 2005, Dulwich College, London (Le poème de l’amour); 29 August 2003 St George’s School, Ascot, Berkshire (Psyché); 17 September 2007, Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, Stoke d’Abernon, Surrey (La ballade du désespéré); DDD
NAXOS 8.572346 [62:48]

Louis Vierne, beloved of the organ loft and failure in love - according to the accompanying notes to this CD - wrote mélodies, “consistently reflecting his world, in all its beauty and pain”. This CD contains 17 examples of his world.

Le poème de l’amour is a cycle of 15 songs, playing for over three quarters of an hour. That’s a long time for a song-cycle, and it takes a special kind of composer to achieve success in this medium and over that time span. Schubert achieves it in Die schöne Müllerin (20 songs) and Die Winterreise (24 songs), as does Lili Boulanger in her Clairières dans le ciel (13 songs). What makes those cycles so satisfying is their musical material, the handling of that matter and the emotional impact of the complete work. They contain a whole life experience, distilled, through art, for our edification. One never leaves a performance of the Schubert masterworks, or a hearing - most likely a recording - of Boulanger’s masterpiece without learning something about the human condition. Indeed, even a song as small, in terms of duration, as Henri Duparc’s L'Invitation au voyage packs the same emotional punch.

I mention all this because the very things which makes Schubert’s, Boulanger’s and Duparc’s works so very alluring to us are the very things which are absent in Vierne’s cycle. True, Vierne’s work contains fast songs and slow songs but he lacks the very intense vision of the others and he simply doesn’t possess the ability to create something, for voice and piano, on such a large canvas. On this recording there is another problem – Michael Bundy. He sings in the modern way, with a vibrato on almost every note, which, for me, ruins the musical line, for it is impure, and feels insecure, and he doesn’t have a particularly wide range of expression. Thus everything sounds the same.

Psyché and La ballade du désespéré are equally light in inspiration and are sung in the same way. The latter, I am sure, should be much more dramatic than it is here.

Grateful, as I am, for the CD companies to investigate these by–roads of music, it has to be admitted that not everything unearthed will prove to be worthwhile and of lasting value. I am afraid that M. Vierne’s musical world displayed here is of little interest. Mind you, this disk reminded me of just how good Fauré’s, Duparc’s, Debussy’s and Ravel’s mélodies are.

Bob Briggs

Vierne’s musical world displayed here is of little interest.