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Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Clairières dans le ciel (1913-16) [34:02]
Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979)
Mélodies (1906-09) [15:43]
see end of review for track listing
Anna Fabrello (soprano)
Rafał Lewandowski (piano)
rec. June 2012, Staduio Academii Muzycznej w Gdańsku
Texts and translations into Polish (not English) included
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0286 [49:57]

The cycle Clairières dans le ciel was begun in the same year that Lili Boulanger won the coveted Prix de Rome, famously the first occasion on which it had been won by a woman composer. She was greatly taken by the poetry of Francis Jammes thirteen of whose poems she set over a period of nearly four years. She completed the work two years before her death in 1918 at the age of twenty-five.
 
Boulanger here comes close to explicit Debussian influence in a number of settings, none more so perhaps than the fifth, Au pied de mon lit, though in many ways she is at her most evocative, both mordant and sepulchral, in Si tout ceci n’est qu’un pauvre rêve, to which she responds with a powerful sense of atmosphere. At her very best she manages to fuse her Impressionistic inheritance with a dissonant polytonality that generates expressive intensity, such as the ecstatic Par ce que j’ai souffert. By far the longest setting, indeed occasionally puzzlingly long in the context of the cycle as a whole, is the last, Demain fera un an. It enshrines some complex, shifting emotions and is a difficult setting successfully to convey. Anna Fabrello manages to locate the right sense of the music’s direction, whether withdrawn or passionate, though she is sometimes pushed high and her tone tends to thin in places. Her diction also suffers. She is generally faster than Martyn Hill in his recording, reissued on Hyperion Helios CDH55153, though a preference for voice type may determine which recording one prefers.
 
So, too, may couplings. Helios has choral works by Boulanger whilst Acte Préalable prefers to pair Lili with mélodies by her sister Nadia. There are seven, composed somewhat earlier than Lili’s (Nadia was older), and they’re rather more conventional in influence. Fauré’s melancholy infuses the Verlaine poem Soleils couchants whilst Chanson is a more effervescent setting. Strong carillon piano patterns infuse Soir d’hiver.
 
This is a good, thoughtful selection, though rather brief at under fifty minutes. Anglophones may struggle with the texts, which are translated into Polish only, but that’s surely not an insuperable problem, as they can be downloaded via various sites.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
Lili
Clairières dans le ciel
Elle était descendue au bas de la prairie [1:42]
Elle est gravement gaie [1:31]
Parfois, je suis triste [3:16]
Un poète disait [1:52]
Au pied de mon lit [2:41]
Si tout ceci n’est qu’un pauvre rêve [2:19]
Nous nous aimerons tant [1:57]
Vous m’avez regardé [1:20]
Les lilas qui avaient fleuri [2:32]
Deux ancolies [1:51]
Par ce que j’ai souffert [2:46]
Je garde une médaille d’elle [1:39]
Demain fera un an [8:36]
Nadia
Mélodies
Soleils couchants [2:07]
Élégie [2:57]
Prière [2:19]
Cantique [1:21]
Versailles [2:22]
Chanson [1:03]
Soir d’hiver [3:34]