Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) The Complete Songs - Volume 1
Ann Murray (mezzo) Lorna Anderson (soprano) John Chest (baritone) Nigel Cliffe (bass-baritone) Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor) Ben Johnson (tenor)
Janis Kelly (soprano) (17, 21); Joan Rodgers (soprano) (28-35) Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 2012-2015, All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
Sung texts with English translations enclosed SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD427 [76:37]
A little more than a decade ago Hyperion launched a series with the complete songs by Gabriel Fauré. It was critically acclaimed then and has stood the test of time. The mastermind behind that project was Graham Johnson, who previously had masterminded the enormous series with Schubert’s complete songs, issued on 40 well-filled CDs. The Fauré project was much less extensive, comprising 4 discs, and I suspect that Signum Classics’ new series will be of the same size. There are similarities between the two projects: a well-known accompanist is the common denominator, the songs are allotted to a large number of singers and they are not presented in chronological order but arranged to give satisfying, varied recitals on each disc.
Malcolm Martineau has, for the first disc in Signum’s series, chosen a mix of veterans and relatively young singers and this works very well. Fauré’s songs span his whole creative life, from Le papillon et la fleur (1860) to the song-cycle L’Horizon chimérique (1921). His first eight opus groups were all songs and most of these are included in the present disc. The two songs that constitute his Opus 1 rightly open the disc, melodious and beautiful – as are all his songs – and they are well sung by Ann Murray with excellent care for words. She also negotiates the hurdle race through Vocalise No. 29 with aplomb. The vocalises were written during his time as Director of the Paris Conservatoire for sight-singing examinations. They were unearthed as recently as 2014 and range from quite simple to extremely taxing. The beautiful Vocalise No. 20 is an example of the easier variant and it is also well sung by Lorna Anderson. Ann Murray is also allotted the well-known Après un rêve, which she sings sensitively without sentimentalising it, in line with the composer’s wishes. Finally she makes the most out of the Cinq mélodies de Venise, written after a holiday in Venice in 1891.
Another veteran in the world of art song is Joan Rodgers, who sings the cycle Le Jardin Clos, settings of eight poems by Belgian Charles van Lerberghe. Fauré wrote the music between July and November 1914, beginning it in Bad Ems in Germany the last week of July. When World War I broke out on 28 July he fled to Switzerland and composed further songs in Geneva, from where he returned to Paris. There and during a stay at Pau in October he finished the work. A rather split background for a work of art. Ms Rodgers is deeply involved in the inward cycle and in particular the final song is deeply moving. Harmonically this cycle is Fauré at his boldest, and his former teacher Saint-Saëns complained that he was unable to enjoy ‘this garden pitilessly blocked off by thorns’.
Janis Kelly has also been around for some time and she is excellent in the first two songs of Opus 39: Aurore and Fleur jetée, the former beautifully vocalised, the latter strongly dramatic. I have already briefly mentioned Lorna Anderson, whose exquisite soprano is a great asset for this programme. She has previously sung with Martineau in the complete cycle of Poulenc’s songs. Her reading of Les berceaux is truly beautifully sung, her soft singing delicious, as is Arpège.
On the male side Nigel Cliffe’s dark baritone is rather heavy and his vibrato is too wide for my taste, but he is a dramatic and expressive singer. His baritone colleague, the young American John Chest, is on the other hand, a real find. The three short songs in Poème d’un jour are a joy to listen to for sheer vocal excellence but he is also a masterly interpreter: dramatic in Rencontre, soft and inward in Toujours. The two songs Op. 2 are also gems. Listen to Les matelots and you will be hooked.
Iestyn Davies’ share on this disc is only two songs, Lydia and Tristesse but they are two of the best and they are well suited to his very beautiful counter-tenor. Finally Ben Johnson, whom I first heard on the last disc in Hyperion’s series with the complete Richard Strauss songs, reviewed a little more than a year ago. ‘Someone to watch’ I wrote then, and hearing him again just confirms my good impression of him. Both the Sérénade toscane and Nell are lovely songs that suit his excellent lyric tenor perfectly.
Malcolm Martineau’s accompaniments are as perfect as anything can be in this world and Roger Nichols’ liner-notes are highly informative and contribute to make this a self-recommending issue. An auspicious start to this series, which makes me eager to hear the next instalment.
Contents 1. Le papillon et la fleur, Op. 1, No. 1 [2:21]
2. Mai, Op. 1, No. 2 [2:16]
Poème d’un jour, Op. 21:
3. I. Rencontre [2:02]
4. II. Toujours! [1:12]
5. III. Adieu [2:29]
6. Lydia, Op. 4, No. 2 [3:01]
7. Tristesse, Op. 6, No. 2 [2:47]
8. Dans les ruines d’une abbaye, Op. 2, No. 1 [1:51]
9. Le voyageur, Op. 18, No. 2 [1:38]
10. Sérénade toscane (O tu che dormie riposata stai), Op. 3, No. 2 [2:53]
11. Les berceaux, Op. 23, No. 1 [2:44]
12. Chanson du pêcheur (Lamento), Op. 4, No. 1 [3:23]
13. Vocalise No. 29 [2:32]
14. Sylvie, Op. 6, No. 3 [2:37]
15. Après un rêve (Levati sol que la luna è levata), Op. 7, No. 1 [2:36]
16. Vocalise No. 20 [1:05]
17. Aurore, Op. 39, No. 1 [2:28]
18. Fleur jetée, Op. 39, No. 2 [1:36]
19. Arpège, Op. 76, No. 2 [2:28]
20. Les matelots, Op. 2, No. 2 [1:30]
21. La Fée aux chansons, Op. 27, No. 2 [1:48]
22. Nell, Op. 18, No. 1 [1:50]
Cinq mélodies ‘de Venise’, Op 58:
23. I. Mandoline [1:52]
24. II. En sourdine [3:11]
25. III. Green [1:56]
26. IV. A Clymène [3:13]
27. V. C’est l’extase [3:13]
Le Jardin Clos, Op. 106:
28. I. Exaucement [1:11]
29. II. Quand tu plonges tes yeux dans mes yeux [1:03]
30. III. La messagère [1:46]
31. IV. Je me poserai sur ton coeur [2:05]
32. V. Dans la nymphée [2:52]
33. VI. Dans la pénombre [1:20]
34. VII. Il m’est cher, Amour, le bandeau [1:23]
35. VIII. Inscription sur le sable [2:23]
details Ann Murray (mezzo) (1, 2, 13, 15, 23-27); Lorna Anderson (soprano) (11, 16, 19); John Chest (baritone) (3-5, 8, 14, 20); Nigel Cliffe (bass-baritone) (9, 12); Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor) (6, 7); Ben Johnson (tenor) (10, 22); Janis Kelly (soprano) (17, 21); Joan Rodgers (soprano) (28-35); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London, UK, 5 June 2012 (1-2, 28-35); 5-8 February 2013 (3-5, 8, 11, 14, 17-27); 30 May – 1 June 2013 (10, 15); 31 January – 1 February 2014 (6-7, 9, 12, 16); 20 May 2015 (13).