Revolutions 1830, 1848, 1871
Full contents at end of review
Les Lunaisiens (Isabelle Druet (mezzo), Jean-François Novelli (tenor), Arnaud Marzorati (baritone), Yves Rechsteiner (piano), Antoine Bitran (barrel organ), Le choeur des révolutionaires))
rec. June 2011, Cité de la Musique, Paris
texts and English translations included
PARATY 214123 [72:34]

The interesting, if quirkily translated, notes to this disc explain that the creed of Les Lunaisiens is “to meet, through music and through words (since we are singers of words) the multitudinous creations that abound in the musical repertoire…”. They certainly succeed with this disc in shedding light on a part of the repertoire which, for me at least, was almost wholly unknown.

Immediately at the start we are reminded that they deal in both words and music with a suitably vehement recitation of the poem of “L’Internationale” by Eugène Pottier followed by the well-known tune by Pierre Degeyter played as a duet by barrel organ and piano. Next comes a ballad about a mother and her son who is shot by a soldier; it is sung by Isabelle Druet with piano accompaniment. Both words and music have more in common with a sentimental Victorian ballad than with revolutionary sentiments. The latter come to the fore in the following song which tells of the people’s overriding need for food. This is sung with great conviction by Arnaud Marzorati with the barrel organ and a raucous chorus.

The disc continues with even more variety. There are three versions of the Marseillaise with re-written words. The first, sung unaccompanied, concerns women’s rights, the second extols the Paris Commune, and the third is an attack on those who get rich on the proceeds of war. As sung by the entire company the last of these cannot but leave the listener in a mood of righteous indignation, as indeed do many of the songs.

The most moving item to me was “Le ball et la guillotine” which contrasts those awaiting execution with those at a ball at the Elysée. This is performed most imaginatively by Isabelle Druet and Jean-François Novelli with piano and with swishing noises reminiscent of the guillotine. I know this may be a cliché but shivers literally went down my spine each time I listened to this song. It is followed by Saint-Saëns’ well-known vocal version of Danse Macabre, with its vision of death gaining additional impact in this context.

Some of the songs are straightforward expressions of political or social views. Most interesting is the unusually moderate “Ne criez pas 'A bas les communistes'”, the first verse of which ends with the words (as translated in the booklet) “Ah, fight your egotistical tendencies with a surge of fraternity; in the name of order and liberty, no longer cry 'Down with Communists'”. It must be admitted that few of the songs here have enormous musical interest, and the inclusion of arrangements of Chopin’s Minute Waltz for barrel organ and of the Grand March from “Aida” for barrel organ and piano are essentially curiosities, although pleasant and amusing to hear. The instruments themselves however are delightful, especially the 1890 Erard piano.

For me this was a wholly absorbing disc to which I have returned with increasing pleasure. The booklet contains the texts with English translations and useful notes. The performances are wholly engaged with the music, and perhaps even more with the words. The recording puts the listener close, possibly too close at times, to the mob and it is hard to resist the sheer fervour of the sentiments expressed. In theory I can see that much of what is included here should be regarded as simplistic, sentimental and musically barren, but as performed and presented here it is a much more positive impression that remains.
John Sheppard


L’Internationale (Pottier & Degeyter) [1:51]
J’ai peur (Beaupan) [5:24]
Le Chant du Pain (Dupont) [4:42]
Le Vieux Drapeau (Béranger) [2:10]
Valse Op 64/1 “Minute” (Chopin) [1:58]
Aime, travaille et prie (Guérin & Henrion) [3:58]
Ne criez pas “A bas les communistes” (Lachembeaudie) [2:40]
Marseillaise des Cotillons (Chaumont) [3:05]
Marche des trompettes from “Aida” (Verdi) [2:38]
Garibaldi (Vincent & Darcier) [3:57]
Le bal et la guillotine (Leroy) [4:50]
Danse Macabre (Cazalis & Saint-Saëns) [2:39]
Quand viendra-t-elle (Pottier) [2:53]
Le Temps des Cerises (Renard) [3:04]
Le Chant des Ouvriers (Dupont) [3:33]
Marseillaise de la Commune (Faure) [1:47]
Lettre de la Périchole from “La Périchole” (Offenbach) [2:50]
Claire (Béranger) [5:10]
Le Sir de Fisch-Ton-Kan (Burani & Louis) [5:05]
Quel est le fou (Pottier) [4:33]
Marseillaise des Requins (Couté) [3:36]