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René de BOISDEFFRE (1838 - 1906)
Choral Works
Dans la forêt, Op.41(1888) [17:14]
L’Été, Op.58 (1894) [3:00]
Cantique, Op.80 [5:49]
Les anges de Bethléem [11:34]
Messe de Notre-Dame de Sion, Op.47(1899) [32:36]
O Salutaris, Op.4 [2:29]
Ave Maria, Op.35 [4:43]
Barbara Lewicka (soprano); Donata Zuliani (mezzo-soprano); Maciej Gallas (tenor); Robert Kaczorowski (baritone);
Ewa Rytel (piano & organ); Dariusz Micorek (piano)
Chór Insieme/Monika Bachowska
rec. 2017, Church of St Vincent de Paul, Kleparz & Cultural Center Dworek Białoprądnicki, Cracow, Poland.
Booklet included (Polish, English, French) Sung texts (Latin or French)

Acte Préalable continues its exploration of the music of the French Romantic composer René de Boisdeffre with this recording of his vocal works. The previous four releases featured his compositions for violin, viola and flute with piano accompaniment, the sort of tuneful, conventional pieces upon which his reputation mainly rested during his lifetime. Nonetheless, he devoted a fair amount of his energy to composing songs, duets and choral pieces, assigning opus numbers to a number of them. The major ones were published and it came as a surprise while poking around the internet how many are available online from libraries and other sources today.

Boisdeffre’s penchant for spinning out charming, beautiful melodies is well represented on this release. I found Les anges de Bethléem, which is practically devoid of them, however, to be the most intriguing selection of the lot. Scored for solo voice and female chorus, it is an evocative work that juxtaposes the birth of the Christ Child with a vision of him as an adult, all to the accompaniment of angelic hymns of praise. Part of its allure is undoubtedly due to Donata Zuliani’s rich, dark mezzo-soprano and her compelling singing of the declamatory solo vocal line.

Composed in 1894, Dans la Forêt, Op.41 is a large-scale symphonic ode in five movements with solo and chorus, although performed here with piano accompaniment. It is a dramatic work in which a rejected suitor seeks solace in a forest. Tenor Maciej Gallas sings with fervour, but a more dramatic, less reedy sound was needed to capture the hothouse passions of the protagonist. Chór Insieme negotiate the stylistic and dramatic leaps in the work effortlessly with polished, impressive singing.

Dans la Forêt and the other secular work on the recording, L’Été, are both settings of poems by Edouard Guinand, who also wrote the libretto for Debussy’s cantata L’enfant prodique, which won him the Prix de Rome. L’Été, Op. 58 is a charming duet for two voices, here sung with grace and lightness by Zuliani and soprano Barbara Lewicka to the sparkling piano accompaniment of Ewa Rytel. It is a simple hymn to nature, extolling the joys of a summer day. Jan Jarnicki, the driving force behind Acte Préalable, deserves plaudits for unearthing this fresh and imaginative little gem.

The text for Cantique, Op. 80 is by Paul Collin, whose poems and librettos were set by Fauré, Massenet, Tchaikovsky and Mascagni, among others. It is a prayer to the Virgin Mary set for equal women’s voices and solo voice, sung in this case by Lewicka. The piece really only takes flight, however, when she and the women’s voices unite in the final dramatic plea to Mary to assist at the hour of our deaths. Up to that point there’s some pretty music, but Boisdeffre seems to have been content to coast on airy melodies; a musical dialogue brought out the best in him.

The first performance of the Messe de Notre Dame de Sion, Op. 47 was a pretty grand event. Scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra, it premiered on 22 November 1890 (St. Cecilia’s Day) at the Church of St Eustache in Paris. Unfortunately, the orchestral score is lost and for this recording the organ reduction, presumably by Boisdeffre, was used. This performance only provides a hint of the grandeur of the work, in spite of the obvious passion and commitment of all involved.

When I was first listening to Boisdeffre’s Mass, all I could think was that a High Anglican church somewhere should add it to its repertoire. The incense, the vestments and the dedication that those churches bring in resurrecting and performing works such as this would put it in its proper setting. Being performed as part of a liturgy might also mask some of its flaws, as Boisdeffre tends to be repetitive and in spite of the melodies, the setting of the text can be fairly pedantic.

The final two works on the recording are sacred songs that chart Boisdeffre’s development as a composer. O Salutaris, Op.4, sung by baritone Robert Kaczorowski, is cut from the same cloth as Panis Angelicus by César Franck and may well have served as Boisdeffre’s model. It is pretty enough, but Boisdeffre lacks Franck’s sense of drama.

However, the Ave Maria, Op.35 is another matter altogether in which beautiful melodies create a sense of tension exquisitely released by the final amen. Kaczorowski’s forthright delivery and Lewicka’s beautifully floated high notes, combined with the tremolo in the organ accompaniment, are just about perfect. I might well be lambasted for such a lapse in taste, but I have a soft spot for late French-Romantic sentimentality.

Rick Perdian




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