Hugues Cuénod’s recording swan-song was for Nimbus, with which
company he had a productive series of sessions. Some of the
earlier examples, such as his Fauré recordings, were taped in
studios in Birmingham but the later ones, such as this, date
from the days when he travelled to Nimbus’s HQ at Wyastone.
He was a superb linguist, and had a wonderful ear for mélodies.
What he no longer really had, and what indeed he had really
not had for most of his singing life, was a voice capable of
much obvious warmth. But what it lacked in burnish – the word
‘reedy’ has been applied to it more than once – it made up for
in intelligent phrasing, excellent diction and a sure sense
of style, or styles, as this particular disc shows time and
This is a mixed recital and explores some highways and byways
of the French song tradition from the earliest born, Chabrier,
to the youngest, the trio of Marcelle de Manziarly, Poulenc,
and Auric, who were all born in 1899. Roussel’s rocking rhythm
underpins Le Bachelier de Salamanque and is sung with
a true sense of the music’s rise and fall. Marcelle de Manziarly
is by some way the most obscure composer represented. She was
Franco-Russian, a pupil of Nadia Boulanger, and a neo-classicist
of repute, though as the notes say, she has been neglected.
Her Fables are full of personality and wit. They are
precise, taut and charmingly brief.
Poulenc’s mélodies are doubtless the best known in the programme
and include such masterpieces as C and A sa guitare,
which Cuénod invests with a telling sense of atmosphere. Caplet’s
Ballades are ingenious and well worth a study. The piano’s
darting Debussian escapades offer a curious independence from
the vocal line. Cuénod is telling in the fourth of the set,
Songe d’une nuit d’été where his confident brio is matched
by Geoffrey Parsons’s playing of the wittily allusive piano
writing. Georges Auric, one of my favourite film composers,
was amazingly precocious when, in 1913, at the age of 13, he
composed his Trois Interludes. They’re boldly etched
indeed, and listen out for the martial rhythms of the middle
Some composers are said to be able to set the phone book to
music, but Darius Milhaud set a 1919 seed catalogue to music.
Oh yes he did. Charming trifles – especially Les Crocus –
and probably what was needed after years of war. His Quatre
poèmes de Léo Latil are of more significance, and are powerfully
expressive, not least the last, sung by Cuénod with such delicate,
refined, half-voiced intensity. To close we have Chabrier’s
salon ballad to send us on our way happily.
There are no texts.