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André CAPLET (1878-1925)
Le Miroir de Jésus (1923) [62:58]
Irma Kolassi (mezzo-soprano)
Maîtrise et choeur de voix de femmes de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française
Direction: Yvonne Gouverne
Orchestre de la Société de musique de Chambre de Paris/Pierre Capdevielle
rec. radio broadcast, 10 June 1953, Sainte Chapelle, Paris

André Caplet is primarily remembered today as an editor and orchestrator of the unfinished manuscripts of his close friend Claude Debussy. He also spent much of his time earning a living as a conductor. In 1911 he conducted the Paris premiere of Debussy’s Le Martyre de St. Sébastien, a score he had substantially orchestrated. When the First World War broke out, he volunteered for military service and was wounded and gassed. His health severely compromised, he was to die prematurely in his forties in 1925. His own music was very much vocally oriented, intensely personal, impressionistically coloured, with an improvisatory feel. These characteristics are notably apparent in Le Miroir de Jésus, a masterpiece dating from the last years of his life and bearing testimony to his strong Catholic beliefs.

The focus of Caplet’s compositional oeuvre is on religious music. Le miroir de Jésus is based on Henri Ghéon’s “quinze petits poèmes sur les saints mystères du Rosaire”. The rosary comprises three chaplets, each consisting of five sets of ten beads. The composer structures the work in three sections: ‘Miroir de joie’, ‘Miroir de peine’ and ‘Miroir de gloire’, tracing the life of Jesus from his birth, through his Passion and Crucifixion, to his Resurrection. Each of the sections is announced by the chorus; there then follows an instrumental prelude and five sonnets sung by the mezzo-soprano.

I am struck by the work’s sparse orchestration and the wide emotional range, conveying a landscape of rich spiritual intensity. This live recording sounds perfectly acceptable for its age. There’s a lovely balance struck between soloist, choir and orchestra. For a modern recording of the work, I wouldn’t like to be without the version on the Mirare label, with Marie-Claude Chappuis (mezzo-soprano), Quatuor Sine Nomine Ensemble, Vocal Lausanne and Jean-Claude Fasel (MIR160). However, this radio recording is of significant historical importance in that the mezzo soloist is Irma Kolassi, a wonderful singer here captured at the height of her powers.

Kolassi was born in Athens in 1918, and when only a few months old was taken by her parents to live in Paris. French became her first language and, on returning to Greece aged eight, she was educated at a French school. Her musical talents surfaced early, and she went to study piano at the Athens Conservatory, achieving a high level of technical proficiency. She took first prize aged fourteen, and completed her diploma two years later, playing Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. It was around this time that her vocal gifts were discovered, when she was acting as accompanist of Maggie Karadja’s singing class. Karadja gave her some lessons and she bagged another first prize. Vocal studies continued at the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome and, yes, another first prize. When war broke out, she returned to Athens, but she soon became disillusioned with opera, so turned to teaching. She tutored Maria Callas in the role of Leonora in Beethoven's Fidelio. It was after the war that her performing career really took off, and she soon discovered that French song was her forte – an art form she excelled in. It was in this repertoire that she gained fame. She forged a distinguished career, both in the concert hall and as a recording artist. In the late 1960s she retired and devoted her energies to teaching at the Schola Cantorum in Paris and the Conservatoire de Troyes. She died in Paris in March 2012, aged ninety-three.

A couple of years ago I reviewed a 4 CD set of Kolassi’s Decca recordings, issued on the Eloquence label. This live airing further adds to her distinguished discography.

No texts or notes are provided.

Stephen Greenbank

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