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Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979)
Neuf Mélodies pour voix et piano
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Quatre Chants pour voix et piano
Nadia BOULANGER & Raoul PUGNO (1852-1914)
Les heures claires pour voix et piano
Cyrille Dubois (tenor)
Tristan Raës (piano)
rec. 2018, Palazzetto Bru Zane, Venice
Sung French texts with English translations
APARTÉ AP224 [66 mins]

On Aparté, Cyrille Dubois (tenor) and Tristan Raës (piano) have recorded a collection of twenty-one mélodies by sisters Nadia and Lili Boulanger. Nadia has the lion’s share here with seventeen mélodies and four from Lili. Incidentally, their appearance at the fifth Nadia and Lili Boulanger International Voice-Piano Competition, Paris in 2009 brought Dubois and Raës together as recital partners.

Nadia, had a multifaceted music talent. She was a composer, a conductor, and a renowned teacher who tutored a considerable number of students who themselves became leading composers, conductors and performers. She also performed as soloist on organ and piano. Throughout the ninety-two years of her long-life Nadia was based principally in Paris.

This album contains two sets of Nadia’s mélodies. First is a collection of nine individual mélodies written during the period 1905-22 including two settings each from poets Paul Verlaine and Albert Samain, and a single setting of Nadia’s own text. Quickening the pulse is Versailles, a most attractive Samain setting where Dubois excels with satisfyingly toned singing, producing a beautiful, tender mood which is high on reflection. Enjoyable, too, is Écoutez la chanson bien douce (Listen to the gentle song) with Dubois relishing the Verlaine setting and delivering a fine level of expression, providing a smooth, quick slide to his high register.

In collaboration with Parisian composer Raoul Pugno in 1909, Nadia wrote Les heures claires pour voix et piano, eight settings of French language texts all by the Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren. Here the theme of love weaves through all the poems. Of these Verhaeren settings, my favourite performance is Ta bonté (Your goodness), in which Dubois adeptly creates a mood of compassionate emotion as love blooms.

In 1913 Lili, with her cantata Faust et Hélène, became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, sharing the award with Claude Delvincourt. By contrast to sister Nadia, who lived to a ripe age of ninety-two, Lili was to die tragically young, aged only twenty-four. Of delicate health throughout most of her short life, Lili wrote over fifty compositions, mainly featuring the voice. They are certainly worth discovering, especially her three Psalm settings and Pie Jesu.

Lili is represented here by her Quatre Chants pour voix et piano, a setting each by poets Bertha Galeron de Calonne and Georges Delaquys, and two by Maurice Maeterlinck. Standing out is the performance of the Delaquys setting Le Retour (The Return) which clearly evokes the music of Debussy. Here Dubois expertly produces an aching sense of expectancy of Ulysses’ safe return by sea to Ithaca.

This is a most satisfying recital by the tenor Dubois, a native French speaker from Ouistreham, Normandy. Dubois studied at Conservatoire de Paris, later joining the Paris Opéra singers’ workshop Atelier Lyrique. In splendid condition, Dubois’ voice is agreeable and smooth, and he rarely over-reaches. Ensuring the text is communicated with accuracy, the tenor is never over-sentimental in this gracious, rather dry-eyed account yet his voice retains sufficient warmth. Performing twenty-one mélodies is a sizable task for a single voice and it might have been worthwhile to share the programme with another voice type(s).

Pianist Raës, a prize-winning student at both the Conservatory de Lille and Conservatoire de Paris, is very much at home in these mélodies from the Boulanger sisters. There is no shortage of charm in these performances together with clear textures and impressive control of dynamics. Raës’ gratifying playing is assisted by the attractive tone of his piano.

Recorded at Palazzetto Bru Zane, Venice, the sound quality is first class, having clarity, presence and balance. In the booklet Dubois and Raës provide a short introductory note and there’s a valuable essay titled ‘Les heures claires- Mélodies by Lili and Nadia Boulanger provided by Bru Zane. As usual, the label provides the sung French texts with English translations which are indispensable.

The partnership of Dubois and Raës makes a compelling case for these Boulanger mélodies which deserve to be heard far more often.

Michael Cookson

Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979)
9 Mélodies pour voix et piano:
1. Prière
2. Poème d’amour
3. Versailles
4. Écoutez la chanson bien douce
5. Le Couteau
6. Heures ternes
7. Soir d’hiver
8. Élégie
9. La Mer
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Quatre Chants pour voix et piano:
10. Dans l’immense tristesse
11. Attente
12. Reflets
13. Le Retour
Nadia BOULANGER & Raoul PUGNO (1852-1914)
Les heures claires pour voix et piano:
14. Le Ciel en nuit s’est déplié
15. Avec mes sens, avec mon cœur
16. Vous m’avez dit
17. Que tes yeux clairs, tes yeux d’été
18. C’était en juin
19. Ta bonté
20. Roses de juin
21. S’il arrive jamais

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