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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Mélodies avec Orchestre
Yann Beuron (tenor), Tassis Christoyannis (baritone)
Orchestra Della Svizzera Italiana/Markus Poschner
rec. 8-12 August 2016, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano, Switzerland
ALPHA 273 [58:05]

This charming collection of mélodies is extraordinary in the fact that their accompaniments are fully orchestrated. Composers of the 19th century generally composed songs to be printed with piano accompaniment for the popular domestic market rather than to be sung in the concert hall with full orchestra. Saint-Saëns was different; as a lover of poetry he was a believer in orchestrating his mélodies and songs, 25 in all. Here, 19 of the Saint-Saëns canon are listed. The composer’s decision to orchestrate was deliberate as he wanted to compensate the abundance of concert arias by lighter, and often more meaningful lyrics. Saint-Saëns was an admirer of the literary gifts of Hugo (1802-1885) and chose six of his poems to set to music. Another poet he chose for three of the settings on this disc was Amand Renaud of Versailles (1836-1895).

Currently there has been a revival of ‘chanson française’ with the series of enchanting songs of Massenet by Bonynge; songs of Debussy and Roussel by Walker & Vignoles; and now this recording of Saint-Saëns pieces follows. This period was regarded as a golden age of French song and, as we are discovering, the vein was rich. One will be surprised to find that the popular orchestral piece, Danse Macabre, was set to words by Saint-Saëns. All pieces on this disc are recorded for the first time.

For the listener a mixture of voices generally offers a wider spectrum of aural colour and here one immediately notices that the songs are sung by either tenor or baritone with no soprano contribution so one assumes that the Chansons were written solely for the male voice. That said, the quality of performance is excellent. The booklet carries good notes in French and English as well as lyric translations.

The songs range in mood from the effervescent to the hauntingly tranquil Rêverie (tk 3) Souvenances (tk 9) I particularly enjoyed Saint-Saëns’ setting of Rêverie with its simple yet effective wind motif, while the energetic L’attente with a strong ebb and flow of dynamics gives a contrast of power. The qualities of the singers come over well, Tassis Christoyannis in Au cimetière (tk 18) and Yann Beuron in Les cloches (tk 11) though in the latter the voice seems unnaturally recessed.

The orchestra under Markus Poschner plays with energy and style and I like his dynamics in L’Attente. Throughout the voices are well balanced with the orchestra with a nice bloom to the reverberation. A slight ghosting was noticed at the beginning of Souvenances but this did not mar the lovely performance and delicate balance.

Raymond J Walker

Track listing
Angélus [3:42]
L’attente [1:43]
Rêverie [2:52]
Mélodies Persanes, Op.26: La brise [2:22]
Extase [4:00]
La feuille de peuplier [2:03]
L’enlèvement [2:07]
Les fées [2:50]
Souvenances [3:36]
Désir d’amour [2:14]
Les cloches de la mer [3:17]
Mélodies Persanes, Op.26: La splendeur vide [4:23]
Le pas d’armes du roi Jean [4:10]
Les cloches [3:20]
Papillons [3:03]
Plainte [2:40]
Aimons-nous [3:35]
Mélodies Persanes, Op.26: Au cimetière [3:51]
Danse Macabre, Op.40 [2:17]



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