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Nadia Boulanger - Icon: The American Decca Recordings
Soloists, instrumental and vocal ensemble/Nadia Boulanger
rec. Paris 1952-54
ELOQUENCE 4841384 [5 CDs: 205:28]

Over several sessions between 1952 and 1954 Nadia Boulanger directed a sequence of music for five Decca LPs which are here reissued in their miniature sleeves precisely as they were released, which accounts for the LP timings.

The first LP was a set of selected Monteverdi Madrigals and two Scherzi musicali that should be sharply distinguished from the pre-war album she made in Paris for HMV in 1937. That really was a pioneering set – so much of what Boulanger recorded was pioneering – and I discussed it and many other things fifteen years ago in the context of an ‘hommage’ twofer on Cascavelle (see review). Three singers are common to both recordings, all men: Paul Derenne, Hugues Cuénod and Doda Conrad. For the Decca recording Boulanger selected a new sequence of pieces from the various books ensuring novelty. She also subtly revisited her chosen instrumental ensemble. The most important difference is that she now played the harpsichord whereas in 1937 she had played the piano. The pre-war line-up of three violins, two violas, five cellos, and a single double bass had now become one violin, two violas, five cellos, double bass and harp with a generally warmer string ensemble tone. The instrumentalists in 1952 were also named and not anonymous as had been the case in 1937 and you will find among them luminaries such as Maurice Gendron, and the two Pierres, Pasquier and Jamet. The singers, most of whom made their marks in other recordings, offer ardent, rich contributions reflective of performance practice at the time. Boulanger’s direction is, if anything, even more idiomatic, in her terms, than had been the case in 1937, at which point, though long aware of Monteverdi’s music – stimulated by d’Indy amongst others – she had only made an extensive study of the vocal music for a couple of years. By 1952 the study had borne fruit. The accompanying forces offer warm, often discreet support and the harpsichord is rather backwardly balanced.

The market for Monteverdi had expanded significantly since the 1937 Madrigal set, almost certainly because of Boulanger’s work. So, at around the same time that this Decca LP appeared, one could also find two recordings of the 1610 Vespers (Anthony Lewis on L’Oiseau Lyre, and Hans Grischkat on Vox) as well as Walter Goehr’s edition of L’Incoronazione di Poppea and a complete Orfeo directed by Helmut Koch.

There are a couple of changes in the vocal personnel for the French Renaissance Vocal Music LP, recorded in the same month as the Monteverdi selection. A few years earlier, in 1949, she had made a four 78rpm set called Petit Concert, which spanned the ages, along ‘Lully to Jean Françaix’ lines. One of the composers represented was Guillaume Costeley, for whom she clearly had a huge regard as she returned to him in the Decca album, devoting space to two of his vocal pieces. This is a set of vigorous, even ardent declamation. There’s nothing florid about it, rather it explores the repertoire with fulsome, precise vigour and liveliness. The ensemble finds the rapier wit enshrined in Le Jeune’s Tu ne l’enten pas, c’est latin and takes delight in Janequin’s irresistible bird song evocations in - what else? - Le Chant des oiseaux.

On a single day early the following year, 21 January 1953, Boulanger and her vocal and instrumental ensemble – the latter now anonymous - recorded two further albums. The first was dedicated solely to extracts from Charpentier’s Medée. Here we find the harpsichord is much more prominent than in the Monteverdi Madrigals. Flore Wend, excellent as she was as an ensemble soprano, has the chance to take solo honours in this LP and proves an eloquent exponent. Durenne too, espousing the high tenor role, is stylish and personable but it’s probably Irma Kolassi who is the best known of the singers. Opinion seems to vary about her singing here, some finding her intonation dubious, but she sings powerfully and puts across Noires filles du Styx with persuasive panache. Maria Férès is an asset and whilst Doda Conrad is hardly the steadiest singer on the stage he was a long-standing member of Boulanger’s ensemble and wholly attuned to her musical aesthetic. For her Rameau album, Boulanger chose highlights from a series of operas. Bringing to life pretty much extinct repertoire such as this was another index of Boulanger’s proselytizing in French music and if the vocal contributions here are more uneven – maybe it was recorded after the Charpentier and the singers were tiring - there is no lessening in commitment. The instrumentalists too make telling contributions as they had in the Charpentier – listen out for the very French birdsong in Flore Wend’s Rossignols amoureux, from Hippolyte et Arcie. Reviewing this disc on release a contemporary critic found Kolassi ill at ease in her aria from Dardanus but I don’t find her so, though I do agree with him about Conrad’s unsteadiness in his music from the same work. And for some reason – tiredness, out of vocal sorts, maybe – Derenne tends to bleat in the Castor et Pollux extract.

Over a year later almost all the Boulanger repertory company returned for a Brahms album. The most extensive work was the Neue Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 65 doubtless designed to supplement her 1937-38 Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52 and other smaller works. In that earlier set there had been the luxury casting at the piano of Boulanger and Dinu Lipatti. Now Boulanger paired with Jean Françaix, a long-time colleague for whom she had conducted on disc back in 1937, around the time of the first Brahms sessions, when Françaix played, with such scintillation, his own Piano Concerto (it’s in the Hommage twofer). The two pianists are crisp and beautifully matched and the singers bring a very French slant to the music, quite sharply defined, though there are some lovely moments that really stay in the memory – such as Zum Schluss: Nun, ihr Musen genug. They also offer the series of Quartets, Opp. 64, 92 and 112, accompanied this time just by Boulanger. These treasurable readings cap her Decca LPs.

There is a most attractive and informative booklet essay from Nigel Simeone and the remastering has been carried out with the expected diligence and care with the result that these LPs, nearly seventy years old now, sound excellent. This is a most valuable restoration. It presents, complete, for the first time, the fruits of those Decca sessions, and does so with laudable ambition and success.

Jonathan Woolf

CD 1

Madrigals: Book 5
1 No. 2: O Mirtillo, Mirtill’anima mia
2 No. 3: Era l’anima mia
Scherzi musicali
3 Damigella tutta bella
Madrigals: Book 9
4 O come vaghi
Madrigals: Book 4
5 Sfogava con le stelle, SV 78
Madrigals: Book 8
6 Dolcissimo uscignuolo
Madrigals: Book 7
7 Interotte speranze
Madrigals: Book 4
8 A un giro sol de’begl’occhi
Scherzi musicali, cioè arie, et madrigali in stil recitativo
9 Quel sguardo sdegnosetto
Madrigals: Book 8
10 Su, su pastorelli vezzosi
Madrigals: Book 6
11 No. 7: Qui rise, O Tirsi – five voices (Marini, 1614)

Flore Wend, Donna Rumsey, Geneviève Massignon, sopranos
Nancy Waugh, mezzo-soprano · Violette Journaux, contralto
Hugues Cuénod, Paul Derenne, tenors · Bernard Cottret, Doda Conrad, basses
Instrumental Ensemble: Luben Jordanoff, violin: Collette Lequien, viola and Pierre Pasquier, viola solo: Jean Reculard, Mme Pasquier, Mme Reculard, William Klenz, cello Maurice Gendron, cello solo: Pierre Barthelemy, double bass, Pierre Jamet, harp
Nadia Boulanger, harpsichord/conductor

CD 2


JOSQUIN DES PREZ (c.1450–1521)
1 Mille regretz
CLÉMENT JANEQUIN (c.1485–1558)
2 Ce moys de may
CLAUDE LE JEUNE (c.1528–1600)
3 Hellas, mon Dieu ton ire s’est tournée
4 Bonjour, mon Coeur (No. 1 of Quatriesme livre des chansons a 4 et 5 parties)
5 Noblesse gît au Coeur
6 Quand mon mari vient de dehors (No. 4 of Quatriesme livre des chansons a 4 et 5 parties)
7 A déclarer mon affection
8 Mignonne, allon voir si la roze
CLAUDIN DE SERMISY (c.1490–1562)
9 Hau, hau, hau le boys (31 Chansons musicales)
CLAUDE LE JEUNE (c.1528–1600)
10 Revecy venir du printemps (Le Printemps, 1513)
11 Vous me tuez si doucement (Chansonettes mesurées)
CLAUDE LE JEUNE (c.1528–1600)
12 Tu ne l’enten pas, c’est latin
CLAUDIN DE SERMISY (c.1490–1562)
13 Au Joly boys
14 Francion vint l’autre jour
CLÉMENT JANEQUIN (c.1485–1558)
15 Le Chant des oiseaux

Flore Wend, Monda Million, Geneviève Massignon, sopranos
Nancy Waugh, mezzo-soprano
Violette Journeaux, contralto
Hugues Cuénod, Paul Derenne, tenors
Doda Conrad, Bernard Cottret, basses
Nadia Boulanger, conductor

CD 3


1–21 Medée, Excerpts

Flore Wend, Nadine Sautereau, sopranos
Irma Kolassi, Maria Férès, mezzo-sopranos
Violette Journeaux, contralto
Paul Derenne, tenor
Bernard Demigny, bass-baritone
Doda Conrad, bass
Instrumental and Vocal Ensemble/Nadia Boulanger

CD 4

Excerpts from:
1–4 Dardanus
5 Castor et Pollux
6 Hippolyte et Aricie
7 Dardanus
8 Les Indes Galantes
9–10 Hippolyte et Aricie
11 Castor et Pollux
12 Les fêtes d’Hébé
13 Acanthe et Céphise
14–15 Les fêtes d’Hébé

Flore Wend, Nadine Sautereau, sopranos
Irma Kolassi, Maria Férès, mezzo-sopranos
Paul Derenne, Jean Maciet, tenors
Bernard Demigny, bass-baritone
Doda Conrad, bass
Instrumental and Vocal Ensemble/Nadia Boulanger

CD 5


1–15 Neue Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 65
16–18 Three Quartets, Op. 64
19 O schöne Nacht, Op. 92 No. 1
20 Sehnsucht, Op. 112 No. 1
21 Nächtens, Op. 112 No. 2

Flore Wend, soprano
Nancy Waugh, mezzo-soprano
Hugues Cuénod, tenor
Doda Conrad, bass
Nadia Boulanger, piano/conductor
Jean Françaix, piano II (Neue Liebesliederwalzer)


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