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Le bal des Animaux (Ballet of the Animals)
Sophie Karthäuser (soprano)
Dominique Visse (counter-tenor)
Eugene Asti (piano)
rec. 2016, Teldex Studio Berlin
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902260 [71:19]

This generous programme of songs and instrumental pieces depicting animals of all kinds and sizes is wholly enthralling. More than 70 minutes of joyful music performed with a twinkle in her eye by the charming Sophie Karthäuser. Unfortunately she got the two dots in her family name on the wrong vowel on the back of the cardboard box. I’m familiar with the problem since I regularly also get the two dots on one of my vowels arbitrarily sprinkled elsewhere. But you learn to live with that. She is elegantly backed up by the versatile Eugene Asti, who also gets away on his own in a couple of piano pieces. Everything is French, except Rossini’s Cat Duet (tr. 19), which incidentally isn’t by Rossini. True, he provided some of the music, but the work is a compilation made in 1825, presumably by British composer Robert Lucas de Pearsall. The music borrowed for the occasion is a Cat Cavatina by Danish composer C E F Weyse and two excerpts from Rossini’s Otello: part of the act II duet for Iago and Otello and part of Rodrigo’s cabaletta from the same act. I have to say that Sophie Karthäuser and counter-tenor Dominique Visse sound uncommonly cat-like!

But all the pieces are well characterised, the programme is entertaining and it is a pleasure to follow the texts with English translations in the separate textbook, which unfolded reaches a length of 239 centimetres. Denis Herlin’s notes are also utterly informative. Most of the composers are well-known, though not always for song-writing. Little known is, I believe, Déodat de Séverac, whose Les Hiboux (The Owls) (tr. 11) is charming with its dissonances. Pauline Viardot (tr. 24) was one of the greatest French singers of the 19th century and also a talented composer. Her arrangements of Chopin’s mazurkas for voice and piano are not infrequently heard even today. L’Oiselet (The Little Bird) is representative for them with virtuoso coloratura writing. Emmanuel Chabrier is best known for some colourful orchestral works, España, for instance, but his songs are real charmers. The four on this recording are real highlights, not least the two that conclude the whole programme, the delicious Pastorale des cochons roses (Pastorale of the Pink Pigs) and Ballade des gros dindons (Ballade of the Big Fat Turkeys) where the birds walk solemnly and sedately but in the accompaniment one can hear that they would rather dance waltz.

Francis Poulenc’s settings of Apollinaire are among the best known animal songs, concentrated, spot on. Le Serpent (tr. 30) is typical. The text says in translation: “You see beauty, and you attack. / Countless women you have sacked. / Victims of your poisoned mark! /Cleopatra, Eurydice, Eve. / And other forenames I could give.” And the music, tossed off in 34 seconds, is reptile like.

Other gems to savour is Lalo’s sprightly and joyous song of the lark (tr. 1), Offenbach’s charming setting of La Fontaine’s fable of the raven and the fox (tr. 20), Chausson’s Le Colibri (tr. 23), not to forget Hahn’s delicious Le Rossignol des lilas (tr. 21) and the young Fauré’s Le Papillon et la Fleur (tr. 10). Ravel and Bizet are of course well-known, even though these particular songs are not, but Bizet’s setting of Victor Hugo’s La Coccinelle (The Ladybug) (tr. 22) is one of the loveliest. Satie’s songs are among the best known today, even though his egocentric piano music overshadows most of his other works. Debussy, one of the great composers of melodies, is here represented by two pieces from his piano suite Children’s Corner, and his younger compatriot Jacques Ibert also gets his share with two piano works, of which Le Petit Âne blanc (The Little White Donkey) is a wonderful portrait of the stubborn little animal industriously trotting away.

All in all one of the most charming thematic recitals I’ve come across!

Göran Forsling

Édouard LALO (1823 – 1892)
1. La Chanson de l’alouette [1:31]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
2. Le Paon [4:25]
Francis POULENC (1899 – 1963)
Le Bestiaire, ou Le Cortège d’Orphée:
3. 1. Le Dromadaire [1:11]
4. 2. La Chèvre du Tibet [0:34]
5. 3. La Sauterelle [0:23]
6. 4. Le Dauphin [0:26]
7. 5. L’Écrevisse [0:38]
8. 6. La Carpe [1:01]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)
9. The Little Shepherd [2:29]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 – 1924)
10. Le Papillon et la Fleur, Op. 1 No. 1 [2:12]
Déodat de SÉVERAC (1872 – 1921)
11. Les Hiboux [2:55]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841 – 1894)
12. Villanelle des petits canards [1:58]
13. Les Cigales [3:29]
Maurice RAVEL
14. Le Grillon [2:58]
Jacques IBERT (1890 – 1962)
15. Le Petit Âne blanc [2:29]
Éric SATIE (1866 – 1925)
Trois Mélodies (1916)
16. 1. La Statue de bronze [1:39]
17. 2. Daphénéo [1:10]
18. 3. Le Chapelier [0:51]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868)
19. Duetto buffo di due gatti [3:27]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880)
20. Le Corbeau et le Renard [2:14]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874 – 1947)
21. Le Rossignol des lilas [1:43]
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
22. La Coccinelle [4:21]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855 – 1899)
23. Le Colibri [2:38]
Pauline VIARDOT (1821 – 1910)
24. L’Oiselet (sur la musique de la Mazurka Op. 68, No. 2 de Frédéric Chopin) [2:54]
Jacques IBERT
25. La Meneuse de tortues d’or [3:30]
Maurice RAVEL
26. Le Cygne [3:16]
27. La Colombe [0:47]
28. La Puce [0:53]
29. La Souris [0:46]
30. Le Serpent [0:34]
31. Jimbo’s Lullaby [3:39]
32. Pastorale de cochons roses [4:49]
33. Ballade des gros dindons [3:13]

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