A Verlaine Songbook
Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Joseph Middleton (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, England, January 2016
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
BIS BIS-2233 SACD [80:00]

Verlaine’s poetry lends itself well to music and many of his poems have been set successfully by numerous composers. Thus it was a brilliant idea to build a programme around Verlaine and include several settings of some of the poems. Since Carolyn Sampson has cast her net widely and included several rarely heard composers, we are offered a very comprehensive odyssey through the Verlainean waters.

Ms Sampson is a richly endowed guide with a beautiful lyric voice well suited to French melodies: it is flexible, she has a sure feeling for the poetry and she is careful with nuance. Structurally the recital is well organized with two groups of Debussy songs framing the proceedings. Fauré’s La bonne chanson is the centre-piece and a good handful of separate songs are sprinkled in between.

The opening Debussy songs, created in 1891 and 1892, are among his finest and they are exquisitely sung here, in particular Clair de lune with dreamy intensity. Poldowski, pseudonym for Régine Wieniawski, who was daughter of Polish violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski, was a talented composer, whose career became rather fragmented due to illness. She set no fewer than 21 poems by Verlaine, all of which were recorded ten years ago. The review of that disc also gives an outline of her career and categorises her musical style. Her music is fresh and inventive and is well worth exploring. Both L’heure exquise and Mandoline are melodious and beautiful and even though the songs may not be masterpieces they are very attractive.

Joseph Szulc was also of Polish parentage. The family moved to Paris towards the end of the nineteenth century and he studied with Massenet. He was appointed chief conductor at Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels and composed successful musical comedies. He set several Verlaine poems and one of those, Hantise d'amour, was recorded by Enrico Caruso in 1914. His beautiful setting of Clair de lune is possibly his masterpiece.

Déodat de Séverac also belongs among those composers who are rarely heard today. A student of Vincent d’Indy he wrote some operas, a couple of symphonic poems, pictorial piano music and several songs. Two of those are included here and they are Debussyan in mood. Paysages tristes from 1898, which concludes the disc is truly exquisite and is sung with the utmost sensitivity.

Fauré set nine of the 21 poems in Verlaine’s La bonne chanson when he was at the height of his powers in the early 1890s and the cycle has claims to be his masterwork in the genre. He had no qualms about presenting the poems in an order of his own rather than in Verlaine’s published order. Even so, there is a strong sense of integrity and Carolyn Sampson gives the cycle a purposeful reading.

Chausson worked slowly and laboriously and his output is rather small. On the other hand the few works he published are on a high level. Today it seems that there is a renaissance for his songs – and deservedly so. Apaisement, written in 1885, is very attractive and it is exquisitely sung here. Also Saint-Saëns’ songs have appeared on several recital discs of late and Le vent dans la plaine, written late in life when he was 77, shows that his inspiration still flowed. Reynaldo Hahn, once written off as a pale creator of perfumed salon pieces, has obtained redress and can be heard quite often in recitals and on disc. L’heure exquise was even the title song of an excellent Hyperion disc with Alice Coote a couple of years ago. The song is a gem and it so beautifully sung here. Fauré’s Clair de lune is probably his most popular mélodie – and rightly so. It flows so naturally.

Charles Bordes, a student of César Franck, was primarily organist and maître de chapelle at the Église Saint-Gervais in Paris. He died fairly young. His gloomy Colloque sentimental is a work from his relative youth.

Originally composed in the mid-1880s, Ariettes oublieés were revised and published in 1903 and dedicated to Scottish soprano Mary Garden, who the year before had created Mélisande at the world premiere of Pelléas et Mélisande. It should be noted that the last two songs are sung in English, for the simple reason that Verlaine liked the sound of the words. Like everything else on this disc, Carolyn Sampson sings them with excellent diction and deep involvement. Joseph Middleton’s accompaniments are sensitive and the BIS recording team should be applauded for the realistic sound. The inclusion of some composers off the beaten track should make the disc a tempting proposition also for those who are well stocked with French melodies.

A garland of roses to everyone concerned.

Göran Forsling
Track Listing
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)

Fêtes galantes, premier recueil [7:04]
1. I. En sourdine [2:58]
2. II. Fantoches [1:20]
3. III. Clair de lune [2:42]
POLDOWSKI (Régine Wieniawski) (1879 – 1932)
4. Cythère [0:51]
5. En sourdine [2:44]
6. Colombine [1:53]
7. L’heure exquise [2:53]
8. Mandoline [1:34]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
9. Sur l’herbe [2:07]
Joseph SZULC (1875 – 1956)
10. Claire de lune [3:08]
Déodat de SÉVERAC (1872 – 1921)
11. Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit [3:28]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 – 1924)
La Bonne Chanson: [20:04]
12. I. Une sainte en son auréole [2:08]
13. II. Puisque l’aube grandit [1:49]
14. III. La lune blanche [2:09]
15. IV. J’allais par des chemins perfides [1:39]
16. V. J’ai presque peur, en vérité [2:14]
17. VI. Avant que tu ne t’en ailles [2:26]
18. VII. Donc, ce sera par un clair jour d’été [2:22]
19. VIII. N’est-ce pas? [2:05]
20. IX. L’hiver a cessé [2:43]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855 – 1899)
21. Apaisement [2:43]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
22. Le vent dans la plaine [1:21]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874 – 1947)
From 7 Chansons grises:
23. Tous deux [1:42]
24. L’heure exquise [2:39]
Gabriel FAURÉ
25. Clair de lune [2:45]
Charles BORDES (1863 – 1909)
26. Colloque sentimental [4:24]
Ariettes oubliées [15:21]
27. I. C’est l’extase langoureuse [2:42]
28. II. Il pleure dans mon coeur [2:26]
29. III. L’ombre des arbres [2:25]
30. IV. Chevaux de bois [3:12]
31. V. AquarellesI: Green [2:14]
32. VI. Aquarelles II: Spleen [2:10]
Déodat de SÉVERAC
33. Paysages tristes [1:45]

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