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Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
Sabine Revault d’Allonnes (soprano); Thomas Dolié (baritone); Samuel Jean (piano)
rec. Vincennes, Cœur de Ville, France, March 2013
full list of songs at end of review
TIMPANI 1C1209 [67:36]

Gabriel Pierné was a prolific composer who was little known outside France by the end of the twentieth century yet he left behind a legacy of good music. He was a brilliant scholar, receiving top prizes in the classes of piano, organ and composition whilst studying at the Paris Conservatoire under Franck and Massenet. Of his compositions the Eastern scenes of his ballet, Cydalise et le Chèvre-pied, come to mind as probably the best known of his music today. Thanks to the enterprising French label, Timpani, a considerable quantity of his piano music, chamber pieces and delightful orchestral works (review ~ review) have seen the light of day.

He wrote a number of ballads along with his major output of theatre music in a volume called Vingt Mélodies, from which a number of the songs here are taken. There is much variety in style amongst the pieces selected for this disc. I tried to match Pierné with Massenet and although there is much to commend Pierné’s expertise, the master holds an ‘edge’ regarding elegance of composition. The pieces are short, get to the point of what they’re about and do not drift or meander, and thus hold the listeners’ attention very successfully.

An engaging opening number, a two verse song (misleadingly described as Les Trois Chansons) sets the scene for other charming melodies that we are to hear. Sabine Revault d’Allonnes provides good variation of character in these pieces and uses dynamic changes effectively. The delicate song, L'Oeillet rouge is lovingly sung; while Les filles de Cadix, a beautiful number with bright and catchy rhythmic influences, provides appeal. In it she radiates happiness and soars effortlessly.

Sensitive and warm-toned singing by Thomas Dolié provides much charm to the haunting and dreamy Bonsoir with his slightly plaintive tone and breezy phrases. His Ritournell is superbly sung with spice and vigour. What a pity Pierné did not provide a duet in which these two voices could revel.

For me, the only pieces that do not portray an inspired Pierné are the French ballads that conclude this disc. I notice that they were composed between two and three decades after most of the other pieces, at a time when Pierné aged 58 was probably trying to embrace the fashionable ‘modernism’. At least it can be said by the establishment that Pierné was up-to-date in this new outlook. Sadly the results are turgid, somewhat morose and don’t capture the listener’s interest. Though sung with quality they do not particularly engage even if considered as tone poems.

Pianist, Samuel Jean, as well as being chief conductor of Radio-France’s Philharmonic Orchestra, is a superb pianist and accompanies with panache. Trained at the Paris Conservatoire his style is elegant: he is noticeably adept in the catchy rippling, well-paced accompaniment to En barque, a lovely song. The voices are nicely placed in an unexaggerated acoustic that well suits the piano here and gives a crispness to the choppy top octaves opening of Les Trois Oiseaux, a skilfully written song with descriptive atmosphere provided by the piano.

Interesting notes in French and English by Jacques Tchamkerten help us considerably with Pierné’s background and an analysis of the music, as well as suggesting that Poueigh’s Musicens Français and Bonger’s Correspondence romain can be consulted for more in-depth detail. It is just a pity that we are not given all dates of the compositions in the notes for they are sometimes revealing when assessing a composer’s maturity of style.

Raymond J Walker
Full List of Songs
Les trois Chansons (1904) [The three songs] [1:52]
Le sais-tu bien? [Know you well] [3:08]
En Barque (1883) [In a Boat] [2:34]
Connaissiez-vous mon Hirondelle [Do you know, my Dove] [2:32]
Les trois petits Oiseaux (1892) [Three little Birds] [3:10]
Tristesse (c.1883) [Sadness] [4:22]
Provence (c.1883) [2:10]
Chanson de Berger [Shepherd's song] [3:38]
Hymne d'amour [Hymn of Love] [2:49]
Ritournelle (1884) [Jingle] [1:50]
L'adieu suprême [The last Farewell] [2:08]
L'Oeillet rouge [The red Carnation] [1:41]
Villanelle [3:25]
Mignonne [Nice] [1:20]
Les deux Roses [The two Roses] [1:29]
La rieuse, conte en prose (1885) [Laughing] [3:14]
Bonsoir (1884) [Good evening] [2:20]
Mimi Pinson (1881) [Mimi Finch] [1:33]
Le Moulin (1881) [The Mill] [3:02]
Les filles de Cadix (1884) [The Girls of Cadix] [2:47]
Six Ballades françaises (1921):-
1. La Vie [Life] [2:00]
2. Les Baleines [The Whales] [2:10]
3. Complainte des Arches de Noe [Lament of Noah’s Arks] [2:06]
4. Le petit Rentier [The little Annuitant] [2:18]
5. Les dernières Pensées [Final thoughts] [6:09]
6. La Ronde autour du Monde [Ring around the World] [1:34]