Douce France – Mélodies et Chansons
Detailed contents listed at end of review
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo)
Bengt Forsberg (piano)
Antoine Tamestit (viola)
Bjorn Gafvert (harmonium)
Per Ekdahl (percussion)
Carl Bagge (piano)
Mats Bergstrom (guitar)
Olle Linder (bass)
Bengan Janson (accordion)
Margareta Bengtson (voice and harp)
Par Grebacken (woodwind)
Karl Olandersson (trumpet)
Magnus Wiklund (trombone)
Ulf Forsberg (violin)
Anders Jakobsson (violin)
Malin Broman (viola)
Kati Raitinen (cello)
rec. CD 1: February 2013, Berwaldhallen, Sveriges Radio AB Stockholm; CD 2: May 2013, Atlantis Studio, Stockholm
NAIVE V5343 [50:55 + 54:56]

You might not automatically associate Swedish mezzo Anne Sofie Von Otter with French song, but that genre means a lot to her, and she celebrates it in this quirky and interesting pair of discs. The first contains Mélodies - the more “classical” sort of French song - while the second contains some of the more “popular” Chansons.
The Hahn settings make a beautifully dreamy introduction to the Mélodies, and Von Otter later reveals his other side with the perky Quand je fus pris au pavillon and a surprisingly cheerful Cimetière de campagne. The Saint-Saëns settings show him to be a surprisingly adept and subtle setter of the French language. All three of his songs have a slightly hedonistic air to them but also a strong melodic element that prevents them from becoming cloying. As a bonus, we get the song version of the Danse Macabre - apparently predating the more famous orchestral version - which Antoine Tamestit brings alive with his viola contribution.
Fauré's Le secret is a beautiful study in stillness, and Ravel's Ballade de la reine morte d'aimer has all of the subtlety and pentatonicism that he evokes when he wants to be at his most subtle and suggestive. The Chansons de Bilitis suit Von Otter's languid tones perfectly, and here Bengt Forsberg's accompaniment really comes into its own in terms of its colouristic sound-painting, especially at the climax of La chevelure. Le tombeau des Naïades is particularly exotic in both its sound-world and its slightly claustrophobic atmosphere. The two Loeffler settings are really magical, not least thanks to Tamestit's bewitching viola contribution. La Cloche fêlée is full of quietly expressed longing, while Sérénade is more witty and knowing.
Von Otter's voice is supremely well suited to this sort of repertoire. She uses the lowest registers of her mezzo voice to delicious effect to evoke the dusky, slightly dangerous world of French song. There is a velvety smoothness to her voice that is equally evocative of desire and remorse. She can suggest huge depths that lie hidden below the surface.
However, the fun really begins with the second disc, which will transport you instantly to the atmosphere of a Seine-side café, redolent with the smell of coffee and the waft of cigarette smoke. That is helped by the much wider range of instruments on offer (including, an accordion) which are delicately used and beautifully recorded so as to show these songs – and, indeed, this genre – at their very best. Von Otter pays these songs the great compliment of taking them seriously, be it the wry wink of Göttingen or the mock military heroics of Padam Padam. A Saint-Germain-des-Prés positively reeks of Parisian elegance with all its name-checking of famous characters, while A Paris does the same in a much more jaunty manner. Le factueur, on the other hand, has an almost Celtic lilt to it, something immediately dispelled by the jazzy buzz of La chanson des jumelles. The eponymous Douce France proceeds with the sly wink of a love song, while Boum! is an explosive send-up of a love song itself. Von Otter brings something much more inward and sensitive to La Vie en Rose, and Parlez-moi d'amour makes a surprisingly poetic ending to the set.
The whole set, but the second disc in particular, is full of the spirit of cooperation and collective music-making, and it shows. This was clearly a labour of love for the mezzo and her friends, and the results are well worth exploring. There is one major snag, though: the song texts are given in French only, without translations. That’s a serious oversight, especially considering that the booklet essays are translated. It means that you’ll unarguably get more out of this set if you speak some French, and it’s a shame that they’ve reduced the enjoyment of so many people who don’t.
Simon Thompson
Von Otter's voice is supremely well suited to this sort of repertoire.

Detailed Contents List
CD 1 - Mélodies
Reynaldo Hahn (1874 - 1947) - L'Heure Exquise [2.32]
Reynaldo Hahn (1874 - 1947) - Le plus beau present [1.59]
Camille Saint-Saens (1835 -1921) - Claire de lune [1.23]
Camille Saint-Saens (1835 -1921) - Si vous n'avez rien a me dire [3.20]
Camille Saint-Saens (1835 -1921) - Vogue, vogue la galère [1.51]
Reynaldo Hahn (1874 - 1947) - Quand je fus pris au pavillon [1.06]
Reynaldo Hahn (1874 - 1947) - Puisque j'ai mis ma levre [3.48]
Reynaldo Hahn (1874 - 1947) - Cimitière de campagne [2.23]
Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924) - Le Secret [2.35]
Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) - D'Anne jouant de l'espinette [1.41]
Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) - Ballade de la reine morte d'aimer [4.07]
Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918) - Trois Chansons de Bilitis [9.07]
Charles Martin Loeffler (1881 - 1935) - La Cloche felée [8.21]
Charles Martin Loeffler (1881 - 1935) - Sérénade [4.30]
Camille Saint-Saens (1835 -1921) - Danse Macabre [2.06]

CD 2 - Chansons
Barbara (1930 - 1997) arr. Per Ekdahl - Gottingen [3.02]
Norbert Glanzberg (1910-2001) arr. Per Ekdahl - Padam Padam [3.07]
Leo Ferre (1916 - 1993) arr. Per Ekdahl - A Saint-Germain-des-Pres [3.34]
Barbara (1930 - 1997) arr. Carl Bagge - Quel joli temps (September) [3.20]
Francis Lemarque (1917 - 2002) arr. Bengan Jansen and Per Ekdahl - A Paris [3.11]
Manos Hadjidakis (1925 - 1994) arr. Per Ekdahl - Le Facteur [4.08]
Michel Legrand (born 1932) arr. Per Ekdahl - Chanson des jumelles [3.02]
Michel Legrand (born 1932) arr. Carl Bagge - Je vivrai dans toi [3.07]
Joseph Kosma (1905 - 1969) arr. Per Ekdahl - Les Feuilles mortes [4.24]
Leo Chauliac (1913 - 1977), Charles Trenet (1913 - 2001) arr. Per Ekdahl - Douce France [3.21]
Charles Trenet (1913 - 2001) arr. Per Ekdahl - Boum! [2.03]
Leo Ferre (1916 - 1993) arr. Per Ekdahl - Le Pont Mirabeau [2.53]
Georges Moustaki (1934 - 2013) arr. Per Ekdahl - La Carte du tendre [3.03]
Reynaldo Hahn (1874 - 1947) arr. Per Ekdahl - Chanson d'automne [2.13]
Louiguy (1916 - 1991), Marguerite Monnot (1903 - 1961) arr. Per Ekdahl - La Vie en rose [4.13]
Leo Chauliac (1913 - 1977), Charles Trenet (1913 - 2001) arr. Per Ekdahl - Que reste-t-il de nos amours [2.51]
Jean Lenoir (1891 - 1976) arr. Margaret Bengtson - Parlez-moi d'amour [2.39]
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