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Les Blasphèmes – Mélodies Fin-de-siècle
Sarah Laulan (contralto)
Maciej Pikulski (piano)
Quatuor Hermès (Elise Liu, Omer Bouchez (violins) Lou Yung-Hein Chang (viola), Anthony Kondo (cello))
rec. 2016, Akademiezaal, Sint.Truiden, Belgium
Sung texts printed in the booklet but no translations
FUGA LIBERA FUG741 [59:29]

Several discs with French songs have come my way for review the last few years, and it is always a pleasure to investigate this repertoire. It is also a pleasure to encounter singers you haven’t heard before and on the present disc the songs and the singer are of equal interest. Let me begin with the singer.

Sarah Laulan has a fruity contralto voice, powerful and expressive, not least with her impressive chest-notes. She trained in Tours, Toulouse, Brussels and London and has taken part in master classes with Brigitte Fassbaender, Waltraud Meier and Ewa Podles, among others. She has also successfully taken part in Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2014 and Geneva Competition in 2016. Her repertoire spans music from Pergolesi to Mahler and she has appeared in a number of opera houses.

The opening song – or rather scena – is a magnificent piece of music, filled with dramatic declamation which amply demonstrates her expressive capacity. Chaminade was very successful, both as composer and pianist. The list of her works ends with opus 171, but there are quite a lot of works without opus numbers. After her death in 1944 her music fell into oblivion, but lately she has been rehabilitated and her discography is today quite extensive, including also her complete piano recordings, the earliest made in 1901 but the majority during the 1920s. She didn’t record Danse païenne, from 1919, but Maciej Pikulski’s reading on this disc reveals that it requires considerable technical brilliance. Written just after the Great War was over, it is permeated by the optimism that had come back to the European people. There is something of “Happy Days Are Here Again” about it, but there are darker undertones as well.

And darkness is recurrent in this programme, which covers the period 1869 – 1936. The heavy chords that wander through Ravel’s Un grand sommeil noir create a sombre atmosphere. Slowly it grows in intensity, until the voice rises out of the darkness like a volcanic eruption – only to fall back in the gloominess. Anxiety seems to be omnipresent in the little-known Dupont’s Les effarés, while Poldowski, whose songs pop up every now and then, is very special in this Nocturne des cantilénes, wild and dark, far from the songs she charmed the beautiful people in the saloons with in the early days of the century. The Nocturne was written in 1914, when the war was approaching mercilessly. In Saint-Saëns’s Violons dans le soir we get some comfort and the violin solo is ravishingly played by Omer Bouchez. Danse macabre is best known as an orchestral work but this version for voice and piano is certainly also expressive and Sarah Laulan has no inclination to play safe.

Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle with string quartet, was written only the year before he passed away, just 44 years of age, in a bicycle accident. His Impressionist harmonic language has influences from his teachers Massenet and Franck and more than a pinch of Wagner – he visited Bayreuth together with d’Indy for the premiere of Parsifal. Duparc’s Le gallop is the earliest song here and Sarah Laulan’s singing is truly full-blooded. George Enescu was Romanian but he went to study in Vienna in 1888 at the age of seven and entered the Paris conservatory in 1895 when he was fourteen. The song presented here, Désert was written there when he was seventeen. It’s an attractive piece by this multi-talented musician. The accompaniment to Saint-Saëns’s Tournoiement is an intense perpetuum mobile. The final number is a wonderful encore in cabaret style and is performed with string quartet: Tango stupéfiant, composed in 1936 by Raphaël Carcel. The person concerned is obviously not known by Wikipedia, but that doesn’t matter. It is a piece that enlivens the atmosphere of this fascinating but somewhat depressing recital.

Sarah Laulan is a find and I will be on the look-out for her future discs. I could have wished English translations of the song texts, but otherwise this is a disc to return to, but maybe not for continuous listening. A couple of songs at a time could be an adequate dose.

Göran Forsling

Cécile CHAMINADE (1857 – 1944)
1. Les deux ménétriers W277 (1890) [6:52]
2. Danse païenne, Op. 158 (1919) [5:06]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
3. Un grand sommeil noir, M.6 (1895) [3:55]
Gabriel Edouard Xavier DUPONT (1878 – 1914)
4. Les effarés (1903) [3:29]
POLDOWSKI (1879 – 1932)
5. Nocturne des cantilènes (1914) [3:21]
Henri DUPARC (1848 – 1933)
6. Testament (1883) [3:52]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
7. Violons dans le soir (1907) [5:42]
8, Danse macabre (1872) [2:27]
Gabriel Edouard Xavier DUPONT
9. Pieusement (from Deux mélodies) (1909) [2:59]
Vincent d’INDY (1851 – 1931)
10. L’Amour et le crâne, Op. 20 (1884) [2:26]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855 – 1899)
11. Chanson perpétuelle, Op. 37 (1898) [7:21]
12. Le gallop (1869) [3:02]
George ENESCU (1881 – 1955)
13. Désert (from Trois melodies, Op. 4 No. 1) (1898) [2:35]
14. Tournoiement (from Mélodies persanes Op. 26) (1870) [2:56]
Raphaël CARCEL (? - ?)
15. Tango stupéfiant (1936) [3:20]
(co-composer & arranger: Faycal Cheboub)



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