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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) The Complete Songs – Volume 3
Lorna Anderson (soprano), Isobel Buchanan (soprano), John Chest (baritone), Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano), Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor), William Dazeley (baritone), Janis Kelly (mezzo-soprano), Louise Kemény (soprano), Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Thomas Oliemans (baritone)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. between Feb 2013 and Oct 2015 at All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
Sung texts with English translations enclosed SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD483 [58:56]
The third disc in Malcom Martineau’s compelling survey of Fauré songs for Signum again blends famous and little-known items from the French master, and once more employs a fascinating variety of singers, some blessed with a wealth of experience, others at the dawn of their careers. I have to say the idea of a multitude of different voices contributing to a conspectus of 100 or so songs provides a deeply refreshing alternative to hearing one or two voices cover everything; Hyperion adopted a similar approach for their Graham Johnson-led discs a decade and a half ago but I have to say I much prefer the voices on these Signum discs. Of the readily available cycles still around the classic Ameling/Souzay/Baldwin set is still good value on Brilliant Classics, although the sound is just beginning to show its age. In fact the set I’ve preferred over the years also features (a young) Malcolm Martineau in one of his earliest recordings, with the velvet-toned Sarah Walker and the late Tom Krause on CRD (CRD 5004 review) It is still available and for some unfathomable reason tends to get overlooked when this repertoire gets discussed. Given a mélodiste of Fauré’s stature, the competition for complete sets is surprisingly thin. Happily vocal (and recording) standards across the three Signum volumes issued to date have proved impressively high while Martineau’s superb accompaniments are consistently fine.
The songs on this issue are presented broadly chronologically, while the texts involved are invariably from the pens of the usual suspects. The disc opens with Iestyn Davies’ glorious counter-tenor in the all-too-brief Ici-bas!. Its Prudhomme text hovers on the precipice between hope and regret and is perfectly married to the youthful composer’s early experiments in harmonic ambiguity. I wonder if on the strength of Davies’ contributions to these Signum discs Hyperion have floated with him the idea of an all Fauré recital? From the same poet, the following Au bord de l’eau is a delightful reflection of the resilience of love, delivered with seemingly effortless vivacity by Ann Murray whose voice seems tailor-made for this repertoire, a thought confirmed by her authoritative rendition of Clair de lune, one of Faure’s (and Paul Verlaine’s) finest and most renowned inspirations.
Isobel Buchanan’s voice was probably more familiar to listeners in the 1970s and 80s. In recent years she has made something of a comeback after illness. Her voice still seems in excellent fettle – here she contributes two items inspired by Autumn. The early Baudelaire setting Chant d’automne has a rather ominous beauty which is splendidly amplified by Buchanan’s radiant voice; Roger Nichols’ characteristically erudite note reveals the sadder, nostalgic Automne was written soon after the composer’s engagement to Marianne Viardot ended. Buchanan’s voice here aptly conveys an aura of resignation alongside Martineau’s limpid, discreet accompaniment.
Singers who make briefer appearances on this instalment include John Chest, who gives a virile performance of Tristesse d’Olympio, a rather stolid, less inspiring Hugo setting from Fauré’s youth; while the young soprano Louise Kemény offers a chaste reading of the Ave Maria Op 67 No 2; in fact this is incorrectly listed on the sleeve as the Op 93 setting. Dame Sarah Connolly dazzles in the eerie Vocalise-étude and in the spare late Chanson Op 94. One of the most intriguing items here is the exotic Les roses d’Ispahan, to words by the Parnassian poet Leconte de Lisle. This mélodie is just about as unbuttoned as Fauré gets- Janis Kelly’s account is appropriately sultry.
The bulk of the songs are given over to three particularly insightful exponents of this repertoire. The Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans seems to be an almost ideal Fauré interpreter. He has a glorious tone and projects fantastic dynamic and colouristic flexibility. His sung French is impeccable. His delicate side is heard to telling effect in La rose (Ode anacreontique), another exotic de Lisle poem, to which Fauré applies an almost impenetrable harmonic structure. He also sings the caustic Spleen: in his review of this disc my colleague Göran Forsling attributed this performance to John Chest - I have checked with the good people at Signum who have confirmed it’s Oliemans (it’s certainly not Ann Murray who is listed in the booklet!).
Another fine baritone, William Dazeley evocatively performs the wonderful late cycle Mirages, here it has a tender darkness that eludes other recent male interpreters – I would say Marianne Crebassa’s recent account on her superb Secrets recital with Fazil Say inevitably projects more of an erotic frisson in Danseuse, the final song.
Excellent as all these performances are, the singing I have enjoyed most on this fabulous disc comes from the Glaswegian soprano Lorna Anderson. Quite apart from the blissed out agility she displays in the two brief vocalises, her three songs in the middle of this disc constitute its essential core. Most memorable of these is the extraordinary Le parfum impérissable (another de Lisle flower poem,) in which Anderson’s flawless control and Martineau’s restrained accompaniment combine in a reading that fairly glows with purposeful intensity.
The 23 songs on this album are connected by Malcolm Martineau’s accompaniment; his supreme grasp of and empathy with this profoundly elusive composer continues to illuminate the listener’s route to the heart of this singular repertoire. He demonstrates that our appreciation of Fauré is constantly evolving and in this sense his playing often epitomises the axiom ‘less is more’. The volume as a whole easily matches the standards set by its predecessors and can be recommended with confidence. Signum have promised to correct the blips in the booklet, in the context of a multi-singer project they are entirely forgivable and in no way detract from a carefully planned and superbly recorded selection. I hope the next, presumably final volume in Signum’s fine cycle is not too far down the line.