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Chansons Françaises
Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone)
Maria Belooussova (piano)
rec. 2012, Studio Tonal, Vienna
ELOQUENCE 4817502 [70:32]

One of the most reliable and constantly inspired interpreters of German Lieder for many years has been Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, but I can’t remember ever hearing him in French melodies. When I started listening to this disc I quickly realised that the loss was mine. Here is a singer with all the attributes for singing the French repertoire: his mellifluous light voice has the tenoral sound of the baryton-Martin – consequently his deepest notes are rather weak, but he seldom needs them; he is able to sing long legato phrases with exquisite shadings and his French seems fully idiomatic. I was quite carried away by his singing of three of the songs from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, music usually sung by female singers. In fact, although I have Regine Crespin, Janet Baker, Anne Sofie von Otter and some dozen other singers in this music I was quite overwhelmed by Holzmair. Hearing them with piano accompaniment is also unusual but that’s the way Berlioz first presented them. The cycle was completed in 1841 and two years later he orchestrated Absence for his lover Marie Recio, but the remaining five had to wait until 1856 before they were donned orchestral garb. It was an excellent idea to open the recital with Berlioz, since he, as Pauline Lambert points out in the excellent liner notes, was the founding father of French art song.

And he got many followers. Ernest Chausson, a student of Massenet and Franck, is not known as a song composer in the first place – to many music lovers he is probably synonymous with the beautiful and atmospheric Poème for violin and orchestra – but they are worth listeners’ attention and readers hearing the three items recorded here may very well be tempted to investigate his oeuvre further. The mini-cycle Poème de l'amour et de la mer is a good starting point.

Both Jacques Ibert and Maurice Ravel became involved in the creation of songs for the 1933 film Don Quixote, directed by Pabst and with the legendary Russian bass Chaliapin playing the title role. Several composers were commissioned, without the knowledge of each other and in the end Ibert was chosen. Ravel might well have won the race but due to ill health he didn’t deliver on time. These songs were in fact his last completed work and they have been frequently performed and recorded. And so have Ibert’s, who got a flying start when Chaliapin recorded them. His larger-than-life readings are of course very special, arguably too emotional, and Holzmair sings them more in line with the French song tradition. It is indeed good to have both composers side by side.

Debussy is of course a must for an overview of French songs like this, and the five songs chosen are so idiomatically sung. Henri Duparc was probably the most self-critical composer ever. Due to mental illness he ceased composing at age 37, although he lived another 48 years. He destroyed most of what he had written and though there remain almost 40 works he is today known for his 17 songs, by many regarded as the best French songs ever. Phidylé is no doubt a masterpiece as is La vie antérieure. Both are exquisitely sung here.

Eugène Anthiome reached the venerable age of almost 80 but is today largely forgotten. He was professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory and in 1889 a 14-year-old Maurice Ravel was his pupil. The two songs presented here are melodious and attractive and Mignonne has an expressive piano accompaniment.

It was quite natural to conclude this overview with Gabriel Fauré. He is represented by Les Berceaux, a wonderful song from his earlier years, and the cycle L’Horizon chimerique, his last vocal work from 1921, followed only by his last nocturne for piano, his piano trio in D minor and his string quartet in E minor. There is such concentration in his late works, he so to speak distilled the music until only the absolute essential remained.

This programme was recorded in 2012 and I wonder why it had to wait so long for publication. Holzmair was 60 at the time but no one hearing his singing can imagine that this isn’t a person twenty years younger. His accompanist Maria Belooussova is an ideal duo partner and it is with an aching heart I see in the biography that she died in May 2018 from cancer. This recording is a worthy memorial to her art.

Göran Forsling

Hector BERLIOZ (1803 – 1869)
Les Nuits d’été:
1. No. 1 Villanelle [2:12]
2. No. 4 Absence [4:55]
3. No. 6 L’Île inconnue [3:35]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855 – 1899)
4. Le Colibri [3:25]
5. Les Papillons [1:18]
6. Sérénade italienne [1:53]
Jacques IBERT (1890 – 1962)
Chansons de Don Quichotte:
7. II Chanson à Dulcinée [2:52]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée:
8. I Chanson romanesque [1:52]
9. II Chanson épique [2:57]
10. III Chanson à boire [1:49]
Jacques IBERT
Chansons de Don Quichotte:
11. IV Chanson de la mort [2:40]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)
Deux romances sur la poésie de Paul Bourget:
12. I Romance (L’âme évaporée et souffrante)[1:57]
13. II Les Cloches [2:07]
Trois chansons de France:
14. I Rondel [1:10]
15. II La Grotte [2:37]
16. III Rondel [2:24]
Henri DUPARC (1868 – 1933)
17. Phidylé [5:18]
18. Lamento [3:24]
19. La vie antérieure [4:32]
Eugéne ANTHIOME (1836 – 1916)
Deux mélodies:
20. I Papillon bleu [3:38]
21. II Mignonne, puisque c’est l’automne [2:55]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 – 1924)
22. Les Berceaux [2:34]
L’Horizon chimérique, Op. 118:
23. I La me rest infinite [1:35]
24. II Je me suis embarqué [2:50]
25. III Diane Séléné [1:57]
26. IV Vaisseaux, nous vous aurons aimés [1:57]


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