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Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Las vie d’une rose
Sally Silver (soprano)
Christine Tocci (mezzo soprano)
Richard Bonynge (piano)
rec. 2017, National Opera Studio, London
Full texts and French/English translations included

I wrote an enthusiastic review of the 2014 collection of Massenet songs, Les amoureuses sont des folles on SOMMCD0151. I noted: “It is such a pity that these lovely songs are not better known. Here is proof, if ever there was need for such, of Massenet’s lyrical invention for the female voice and his richly descriptive and evocative writing for the piano.” This collection adds another 25 songs – out of Massenet’s output of over 200 – which are equally entrancing, equally captivating.

The disc has again brought together the proven talents of soprano Sally Silver and pianist Richard Bonynge (probably best known as the husband of the late Joan Sutherland). Their partnership was forged in an in-depth appreciation and empathy developed from profound knowledge and experience of the operatic stage and the recital room. They are joined in several songs by the equally inspired mezzo-soprano Christine Tocci. It is overwhelmingly sad that this teaming has been brought to an unfortunate end by Sally Silver’s untimely death at the end of 2018. Richard Bonynge pays a moving tribute to her in the pages of this album’s booklet.

The 25 songs here are very varied, and thet frequently emulate Massenet’s operatic style in atmosphere, sentiment and colour. As in my previous review, I have chosen to mention just a few. Let me begin with the title song, the scintillating La vie d’une rose, the bitter-sweet story of a rose. The song expresses a soaring pride in the rose’s morning-fresh beauty, contrasted with a sinking pathos as nightfall brings the inevitable fading of that splendour. Sally Silver colours her voice beautifully and persuasively. She emphasises these dramatic contrasts, and the piano part is simply ravishing, pointing up the drama very well.

Joie is about a little bird that hops and sings in an idyllic spring landscape. The bird’s sweet song proclaims a betrothal. It is a little gem, this one, disarmingly charming. Silver and Tocci clearly enjoy great delight; their voices intertwine joyously against jaunty, bouncy rhythms.

One of the most substantial songs is Aux étoiles (To the Stars), another duet. It is ravishingly beautiful. The voices move lightly, glistening over the loveliest of piano accompaniments, rippling, then growing romantic, then passionate.

One song, sung by Christine Tocci as solo, has a direct reference to one of Massenet’s most famous operas, Werther. It is entitled La dernière letter de Werther à Charlotte (The Final Letter from Werther to Charlotte). The melody reflects the growing dramatic tension as the poet pours out his feelings, leading to a climax darkened by shadowy omens. The drama is heightened by the usage of Sprechtstimme (a term used for expressive utterances between speaking and singing). It is highly effective as coloured and dramatized by Tocci. The piano part following the progressive tension is just as trenchant.

As I was listening and making notes, I found myself ticking songs that appealed. I soon noticed that I was ticking practically every one of them. To make some sort of short list has therefore been supremely difficult.

I must add a word of appreciation for the front-cover artwork of both of these SOMM Massenet albums. The 2014 album had a demure front cover portrait of a young lady in blue entitled The Letter painted in 1879 by Auguste Toulmouche (1829-1890). This album features an oil painting of Charles-Amable Lenoir (1860-1926) that he called The Pink Rose.
Ian Lace
Track Listing

1) Sérénade d’automne [2:35]
2) Passionnément [2:44]
3) L’heure solitaire * [3:31]
4) Nuit d’Espagne [3:11]
5) Souhait [2:19]
6) La mélodie des baisers ** [1:59]
7) Rien ne passe! [2:14]
8) La vie d’une rose (Quatre melodies Op.12 No.3) [4:15]
9) La poète et la fantôme* [3:06]
10) Puisqu’elle a pris ma vie [1:50]
11) Dieu créa le désert [3:49]
12) La dernière lettre de Werther à Charlotte (Expressions Lyriques No.5) ** [4:08]
13) Le sais-tu? [2:16]
14) La dernière chanson [2:27]
15) Aux étoiles* [4:15]
16) Chanson pour elle [2:25]
17) Étre aimé [1:56]
18) Salut, printemps* [3:28]
19) Le coffret d’ébène [2:30]
20) Vous aimerez demain (Poeme d’avril, No. 5) [3:13]
21) Joie* [2:52]
22) Lâme des fleurs [1:40]
23) Les fleurs [3:29]
24) Le petit Jésus [2:57]
25) Amoureux appel [2:15]
Christine Tocci: * duet, ** solo

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