Véronique Gens (soprano) Susan Manoff (piano)
rec. Studio Teldex, 10–13 March 2015
Sung texts with English and German translations ALPHA CLASSICS 215 [66:25]
Véronique Gens has for many years now been one of my favourite sopranos, ever since I heard her as Donna Elvira in the Aix-en-Provence production of Don Giovanni on tour in Stockholm. Long before that she was well-known in baroque repertoire, and when she gradually widened her scope to the classicists and the romantics, she retained her clean, unforced delivery and objective but warm tone. French repertoire plays an important role for her and here she has chosen three composers with interesting contributions to the song repertoire. They are however very different from each other. Both Henri Duparc and Ernest Chausson were sparse in their productions, the former hyper-self-critical, the latter’s life cut short in a traffic accident just when his career seemed to be blossoming. Reynaldo Hahn was, on the other hand, hyper-productive with lots of stage works to his credit, piano music, mélodies and parlour songs. Much of this is today largely forgotten; the only stage work that has survived is, to the best of my knowledge, the operetta Ciboulette, of which there exists at least one extremely enjoyable recording.
Hahn, who was a highly appreciated singer, entertainer and pianist, opens and closes this attractive recital and his inspired melodies are truly appealing. No wonder he was such a ‘darling’ in the Parisian salons. In Néère we are in Greek mythology, the water nymph that Leconte de Lisle describes so lovingly: White as a fine marble statue, with her rosy cheeks and Hahn paints the picture so deliciously in music. The song as sung is dedicated to Karin E. Lindikoff-Riering and I was curious to know who that was. It seems that the dedication is from Veronique Gens to the woman in question who passed away on 17 February 2015, just a few weeks before the recording was made; a beautiful gesture that gives even greater importance to the song. Gens' reading of it has great warmth.
There are indeed gems a-plenty on this disc. The three songs in the first Duparc group are really lovely – Duparc’s very small oeuvre of songs, only seventeen, are honed to perfection and every time I return to them they have something new to offer. Chausson is lesser-known but his vocal music is worth investigating. Le charme is a beautiful creation and the singing is wonderful, Les papillons is so full of fluttering life, La dernière feuille bleak but beautiful. Chausson had a gift for melodies that stick.
Hahn again with the rhythmically charming Quand je fus pris au pavillon, the softly beautiful Le rossignol des lilas and the baroque pasticcio À Chloris which has rather a close relationship with present-day rock ballads. It’s a wonderful song, and I can’t remember hearing it more beautifully sung. This is a long-time favourite.
More Chausson: La chanson bien douce is among his last compositions and Fauré is obviously an inspiration. Poème de l’amour et de la mer is probably his most well-known and popular work today. It seems that his once often played Poème for violin and orchestra has fallen out of fashion. Le temps de lilas, the last section of this lopsided work, was published separately. I have several wonderful readings of the complete work – with orchestra; there is a purely instrumental movement as well. However, few have sung Le temps de lilas as beautifully as Véronique Gens does here.
So to Hahn again. I vividly remember a recital in the Wigmore Hall many years ago, when an elderly gentleman right behind me, browsing the programme, said: ‘I used to like Hahn!’ Well he got his fair share of wonderful Hahn, since the singer was not just anyone but Victoria de los Angeles, admittedly late in her career but still a marvellous singer. I nodded in sympathy – my very first recording of a Hahn song more than fifty years ago was sung by Victoria de los Angeles.
Duparc’s Au pays où se fait la guerre is an undoubted masterpiece and so is, in its own way, L’invitation au voyage, certainly from his relative youth – he was 22 when he wrote it. This was one of the only seventeen songs that passed his quality test. God knows how many he destroyed. The concluding Hahn songs are further examples of his charm. They may not be masterworks on the same level as Duparc’s songs but they are, in their own way, life-enhancing. Yes, I still like Hahn – even more now having heard this delectable disc.
These are the best of French mélodies from roughly the last three decades of the nineteenth century in wholly delightful readings. What more can I say? Susan Manoff is an exemplary accompanist and the recording is state-of-the-art. A grace for any collection of French art-songs.
Track listing Reynaldo HAHN (1874 – 1947)
1. Néère [3:16]
2. Trois jours de vendange (Alphonse Daudet) [3:30] Henri DUPARC (1848 – 1933)
3. Chanson triste (Jean Lahors, pseudonyme d’Henri Cazalis) [2:52]
4. Romance de Mignon (Free translation by Victor Wilder after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) [4:10]
5. Phidylé (Leconte de Lisle) [5:14] Ernest CHAUSSON (1855 – 1899)
Sept melodies Op. 2
6. 1. Nanny (Leconte de Lisle) [2:30]
7. 2. Le charme (Armand Silvestre) [1:26]
8. 3. Les papillons (Théophile Gautier) [1:20]
9. 4. La dernière feuille (Théophile Gautier) [2:29]
10. 5. Sérénade italienne (Paul Bourget) [1:49]
11. 6. Hébé (Louise Ackermann) [2:28]
12. 7. Le colibri (Leconte de Lisle) [2:50] Reynaldo HAHN
13. Quand je fus pris au pavillon (Charles d’Orléans) [1:13]
14. Le rossignol des lilas (Leopold Dauphin) [2:00]
15. A Chloris (Théophile de Viau) [3:00] Ernest CHAUSSON
16. La chanson bien douce (Paul Verlaine) Op. 34 [2:25]
17. Le temps des lilas (Maurice Bouchor) excerpt from Poème de l’amour et de la mer Op. 19 [4:28] Reynaldo HAHN
Etudes latines, extracts (Leconte de Lisle)
18. Lydé [2:31]
19. Tyndaris [1:43] Henri DUPARC
20. Au pays où se fait la guerre (Théophile Gautier) [5:07]
21. L’invitation au voyage (Charles Baudelaire) [3:56] Reynaldo HAHN Etudes latines, two extracts (Leconte de Lisle)
22. Pholoé [1:27]
23. Phyllis [2:56]
24. Le printemps (Théodore de Banville) [1:32]
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