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Les Musiciens et la Grande Guerre XV: À Nos Morts Ignorés
Marc Mauillon (baritone) Anne Le Bozec (piano)
rec. dates and venue not specified
Original texts included HORTUS 715 [76:26]
This most interesting volume in the Hortus series Les Musiciens et la Grande Guerre concentrates on the art-song repertoire and includes music by composers from four of the principal combatant nations: Belgium, England, France and Germany.
Belgium is represented by just one composer and one song. Georges Antoine’s name was new to me. His Wallonie is a setting of a prose poem which, if I follow the French text correctly, is an optimistic salute to the French-speaking part of Belgium.
The German representative is Rudi Stephan. The four songs included here were apparently written in a very short space of time, between 30 October and 2 November
1914. It’s mildly surprising, then, that the songs are split up with one of the four parted from its companions. As it happens, Abendlied, heard towards the end of the programme, was the one which made the strongest impression on me – though all four Stephan songs are very good. Abendlied is deliberately spare in texture and the present performance is a fine one.
Marc Mauillon has selected three songs by Ivor Gurney as part of the British contingent in his programme. Here, I’m afraid, he meets with mixed success. All night under the moon comes off pretty well. The singer’s plangent tone suits it; this is one of several songs where this baritone’s voice sounds tenorial. Severn Meadows fares less well and having got so far in the review without doing so I have to mention the quality of Marc Mauillon’s voice. He sings with clarity – both in terms of the notes and the words. However, on this evidence his voice is seriously lacking in amplitude. Moreover, he appears to have an extremely limited range of vocal colours at his disposal. His Gurney is, frankly, pallid. I’m sorry to be critical; of a French singer who is sufficiently enterprising as to take up English songs but I wonder if he really understands what he is singing. A baritone friend of mine, born and bred in Gloucestershire, can scarcely bring himself to sing Severn Meadows so moving does he find it. Mauillon doesn’t come close to conveying the aching regret in Gurney’s words and music and he’s not really any better suited to In Flanders either; here the lack of amplitude in his voice nullifies the climax at “The blue high blade of Cotswold lie.” Mind you, I don’t think annotator Jean-Christophe Branger comes any closer to understanding Gurney. He says: “Thus Antoine and Gurney turn out to be simply nostalgic for their native countries or regions.” (My italics.). On the evidence of just one song I can’t judge Antoine but there is a great deal more than “simple nostalgia” behind the poems and songs that Gurney wrote while serving in France.
The remaining British songs included here are popular songs and I think that’s a good idea because it gives a flavour of the words and music that were in common parlance at the time. It’s interesting to hear Good By-eee! sung in slightly accented English, especially when there’s a delightful and genuine French accent in the line “Bonsoir, old thing”. Mauillon sings Roses of Picardy touchingly; the lightness of his voice serves the music well. I’m not so sure, however, that it was a good idea to put on what sounds like a “character” accent for Oh, it’s a lovely war when English is not his first language; it doesn’t quite come off.
Unsurprisingly the mainstay of the programme is French music. I strongly applaud the enterprising choice of repertoire. The Hahn song, which gives the album its title, has a quiet dignity to it for the most part. The two Roussel songs are interesting – despite its English title Light has a French text though A Farewell is sung in English. The Caplet songs were new to me and both are very impressive, expressing strong feelings. We also hear from the Boulanger sisters. Nadia’s Soir d’hiver is a poignant song in which she sets her own words. The text tells of a woman who is cradling her young son while praying for the safe return of her soldier husband. Lili’s Dans l’immense tristesse lives up to the promise of its title; the song is darkly oppressive. Another song that was new to me was Halphen’s Le jour succombe. This is a more modest affair in terms of its expressive range but this essentially simple song has a fragile beauty and it’s well suited to Mauillon’s voice.
So, this album is very welcome for its enterprising programme. However, I can’t help but express reservations about Marc Mauillon’s singing. His voice is far too one-dimensional for me and during the programme I failed to detect a significant amount of variety in the vocal colouring. Perhaps it’s significant that much of his career has been concerned with early or seventeenth century music. In the last analysis he is simply unable to make enough of many of the songs here. Anne Le Bozec plays nicely for him and it’s good to hear her in two Debussy piano solos, Pour les vêtements du blessé and a piano reduction of Berceuse héroïque.
We’re not told where the recording was made but the sound is very obviously the product of a studio with little resonance; the recording doesn’t flatter the performers. The booklet essays are in French and English. It’s a pity that the texts are only provided in the original languages without any translations.
Contents Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947) À Nos Morts Ignorés (1915) [4:02] Rudi STEPHAN (1887-1915) In Nachbars Garten (1914)[3:22] Pantherlied (1914) [1:00] Am Abend (1914)[1:32] Robert Patrick WESTON Good By-eee! (1915) [3:07] Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937) A Farewell (1918) [2:54]; Light (1918) [3:27] André CAPLET (1878-1925) La Croix douloureuse (1917) [5:54] Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Pour les vêtements du blessé (1915) [1:10] Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) Severn Meadows [1:58] All night under the moon (1918) [3:55] In Flanders [3:10] Georges ANTOINE (1892-1918) Wallonie [6:00] André CAPLET Détresse (1918) [7:07] Claude DEBUSSY Berceuse héroïque (1915) [4:53] Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979) Soir d’hiver (1914-15) [3:44] Rudi STEPHAN Abendlied (1914) [2:54] Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918) Dans l’immense tristesse (1916) [5:19] Fernand HALPHEN (1872-1917) Le jour succombe (1906) [4:12] Haydn WOOD (1882-1959) Roses of Picardy (1916) [4:14] J P LONG (Courtland and Jeffreys) Oh, it’s a lovely war (1917) [4:14]