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Charles BORDES (1863-1909)
Mélodies and piano music
track listing below review
Sophie Marin-Degor (soprano); Jean-Sébastien Bou (baritone)
François-René Duchâble (piano)
Texts and translations included
rec. February 2012, Coeur de Ville, Vincennes.
TIMPANI 1C1196 [68:46]

Charles Bordes was a conservatory student of César Franck, who when thinking of his pupils considered him the equal of Duparc. Bordes was an organist but became well-known for his investigations into traditional Basque song - a pursuit which permeated his compositions. He did write instrumental music, but it was largely limited to the years 1886-1891, and indeed the complete piano compositions, the Caprice à cinq temps and Fantaisie rhythmique, date from these years. Above all it is for his songs that he has survived on the fringes of the Franco-Belgian repertoire, and it was to Verlaine that he looked for his primary poetic inspiration. Almost half of his surviving 33 songs set Verlaine.
The songs are fluent, generously lyrical and feature a good balance between questions of vocal line and pianistic inflexion. The urgent declamation of Épithalame, for example, is made the more so by virtue of the idiomatic piano writing and its evocative postlude. The postlude in Promenade sentimentale is notably mysterious. Bordes was certainly not averse to matching Verliane’s intensity with a passionate vein of his own, something exemplified in the setting sung by baritone Jean-Sébastien Bou, Sur un veil air. The music also touches on the pensive and conditional in the case of Soleils couchants as well as the ghostly and grief-laden in Chanson d’automne. Triste, ô triste conveys an ethos of taut melancholia whilst L’Heure du berger seems to strike a rather Fauréan note. Dansons la gigue heavily and deliberately quotes The Keel Row, an unusual undertaking. Mention of Fauré might suggest an affinity, but there is something quite sturdily self-confident about Bordes’ writing that never really takes it in that direction. It must also be noted that there is sometimes a lack of that memorable true melodic quality in some of his settings. The earliest settings are also a little diffuse, but this was something soon rectified.
The piano music is delightful. I wish he’d written more. I find it more captivating than the songs, largely because of Bordes’ delightful evocation of Basque music - in Caprice à cinq temps - and because of the consistently ear-titillating rhythmic zest he cultivates in the four Fantaisie rhythmique. These are interspersed throughout the programme, arranged like little interludes that break up the songs. The first is a zortico, full of panache and zing, whilst the second is irregular and teasing. No.3 enshrines a degree of Franckian chromaticism, whilst the cleverest of the quartet is the last, a brilliant virtuoso exercise more than deserving a place on the encore list of pianists worldwide.
The performances are loyal and effective. The best of the three musicians is pianist François-René Duchâble who plays the piano cycle wonderfully well and is a most sensitive accompanist to both Sophie Marin-Degor and Jean-Sébastien Bou. Bordes is far more neglected on disc than, say, Cras, de Séverac or Pierné. Indeed this first volume of his songs is hardly reflective of a musical personality as different and in some ways exploratory as theirs. His is a more modest voice, but it’s attractive and, in the case of the piano music, exciting.
Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
Caprice à cinq temps, for piano (1889) [5:30]
Le Son du cor (1888-1896) [2:35]
Promenade matinale (1897) [3:38]
Paysage vert (1894) [1:41]
Épithalame (1888) [3:22]
Sur un veil air (1895) [3:03]
La Bonne Chanson (1889) [2:14]
Fantaisie rhythmique, for piano (1891) Nos. 1 [2:37]: II [1:30]: III [2:48]: IV [3:44]
Soleils couchants [3:05]
Chanson d’automne [1:45]
L’Heure du berger [3:52]
Promenade sentimentale [3:42]
Spleen (1886) [1:59]
Triste, ô triste (1886) [1:56]
Colloque sentimental (1884) [5:05]
Ô mes morts tristement nombreux [5:36]
La Ronde des prisonniers [5:17]
Dansons la gigue [2:39]