Shani Diluka (piano)
The Proust Album
Natalie Dessay (soprano)
Pierre Fouchenneret (violin)
Guillaume Gallienne (narrator)
Orchestre de Chambre de Paris/Herve Niquet
rec. October 2020, SR1, Philharmonie de Paris (Concerto); November 2020, Riffx 1, Scene Musicale, Paris
French texts with English translations included for songs only
WARNER CLASSICS 9029667625 [81:52]
'The Proust Album' is a fascinating and engaging French-themed collection, constructed around Marcel Proust. Featuring piano works in several combinations the programme contains works from ten composers who, it could be argued, are all masters of their art.
A new name to me, Monéguesque pianist Shani Diluka is of Sri Lankan heritage and studied at the Conservatoire de Paris, where her teachers included Georges Pludermacher, François-Frédéric Guy, Marie-Françoise Bucquet and Nicholas Angelich. A long-time admirer of Marcel Proust (1871-1922) Diluka writes that this renowned French novelist and critic ‘placed his love for music above all else.’ With 'The Proust Album', Diluka’s abiding desire to devote a project to Proust and the composers he esteemed and cited in his books has come to fruition on Warner Classics. Certainly, the release of 'The Proust Album' comes at an ideal time, as 2021 is the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Proust’s birth and additionally the hundredth anniversary of his death falls in 2022.
The album takes us into the world of the Parisian salon as perpetuated in Proust’s monumental achievement his novel in seven volumes À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time, or Remembrance of Things Past). Diluka’s programme features the music of Reynaldo Hahn, who was Proust’s one-time lover and lifelong friend. Hahn, although Venezuela-born, lived in France from the age of three, becoming a naturalised French citizen. He was renowned for his mélodies and music for the theatre, both operettas and operas. Other French composers Proust valued and are included here are Debussy, Fauré, Massenet, Cécile Chaminade and Belgian César Franck, who studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and worked in France all of his life, also becoming a naturalised French citizen. Proust didn’t just admire French composers, however, and the remaining works on the album are by Gluck, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Ysaÿe.
Opening 'The Proust Album' is the principal work, Hahn’s Piano Concerto, a highly lyrical, charming and often soothing score from 1930. It is a fine example of how Hahn was more than merely a composer for the Parisian salons. It is a shame that his concertos have endured such neglect, as Diluka’s revival reveals it to be a stylish jewel, evoking the milieu of Parisian art deco. Diluka plays beautifully and the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris responds with accomplishment to Herve Niquet’s adept conducting.
In her chosen programme Diluka has fashioned a version of the Vinteuil Sonata as written by Proust’s wholly fictional composer Vinteuil in Un amour de Swann (Swann in Love) a section from À la recherche du temps perdu. For her creation, Diluka positions three short pieces alongside each other: the Hahn Nocturne and the Ysaÿe Mazurka de Salon No. 1, both scored for violin and piano, with the Chaminade Sérénade espagnole given in Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement for piano and violin. Diluka and violinist Pierre Fouchenneret play so gratifyingly and try their utmost to make a case for the Vinteuil Sonata which as a whole does not entirely convince me; nevertheless, individually they are three attractive pieces.
A number of the piano pieces in the collection inhabit a similarly dreamy, rather atmospheric sound-world, which Diluka describes as being ‘from a golden age of French music at the start of the twentieth century’. Notable examples are Fauré’s Romance No. 3, Debussy’s Rêverie, Massenet’s Mélodie (Élégie) and the Hahn Nocturne. Of different character are Gluck’s exquisite La plainte d’ Orphée, Franck’s temperamental Prélude, Fauré’s charming Les berceaux and Hahn’s lively and spirited Ninette which frustratingly short. Standing out is Diluka’s playing of Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse (Island of Joy) a much-loved masterpiece taking here just under six minutes to perform. It is thought to be inspired by Jean-Antoine Watteau’s painting Le Pèlerinage à l'île de Cythère (Pilgrimage to Cythera) and possibly an exhibition of J.M.W. Turner paintings he saw in a London gallery, Diluka clearly relishes this charismatic piano piece for its energy and wide array of colour. (It is also available in Bernardino Molinari’s orchestrated version.) Proust was also an admirer of Wagner making a number of references to him in his novels, which Diluka acknowledges by playing his very short piano piece Elegy in A flat major. One senses that Diluka values the emotional impact of the writing which is distinctly redolent of Tristan und Isolde.
Natalie Dessay’s two contributions to the album are praiseworthy. With Diluka she performs a setting from each of Fauré’s Trois Mélodies, Op. 8 and Trois Mélodies, Op. 23. Au bord de l’eau (By the water’s edge) is a setting of Sully Prudhomme’s text; Dessay sings evocatively of the two lovers sitting by the river watching the clouds scudding by. Dessay clearly relishes the setting of Armand Silvestre’s haunting text Le secret, creating a dreamy and peaceful atmosphere. In 2013 Dessay retired from staged opera productions in 2013, and I’m delighted to hear her voice once again.
According to the notes, there are two world premiere recordings on the album: Fauré’s Les berceaux (The cradles), originally a mélodie for voice and piano and played here in Diluka’s own solo piano arrangement, and Nocturno a recently discovered addition to Richard Strauss’ early set of five Stimmungsbilder (Mood Paintings - Moods and Fancies) for solo piano, Op. 9. In the hands of Diluka, Strauss’ six-minute-long Romantic character piece attains a considerable level of passion and is well worth hearing.
There is a change of tack for the final work on the album in the provision of a reading from Proust over Hahn’s music. Actor Guillaume Gallienne, in striking form, narrates the ‘madeleine reminiscence’ an extract taken from the book Du côté de chez Swann, the first volume in the series of À la recherche du temps perdu. During the narration, Diluka plays Hahn’s piano piece Les Rêveries du Prince Églantine from Hahn’s little-known cycle of fifty-three poèmes for piano entitled Le rossignol éperdu (The Distraught Nightingale).
For the essays and the pair of Fauré songs, French texts together with English and German translations are included in the booklet. Regrettable, and a substantial drawback, is the omission of any Proust text for the narrative extract from Du côté de chez Swann. Shani Diluka provides a written introduction to the album and there is also an essay by music critic and Proust specialist Jérôme Bastianelli. Recording under studio conditions in Paris, the concerto at the Philharmonie and the remaining works at Riffx 1, the Scene Musicale sound team achieves clear, satisfying, splendidly balanced sonics.
Congratulations to Shani Diluka and her partners for 'The Proust Album', an uplifting and engaging release that is providing me with warm sustenance during these cold and windy winter months.
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
1-3. Piano Concerto in E major [27:58]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
4. Rêverie, L. 68 [3:53]
5. Ninette premières valses No. 3 [0:45]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
6. La plainte d’ Orphée from Orphée et Eurydice (arranged for piano by W. Kempff) [3:14]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
7. Au bord de l’eau (By the water’s edge), No. 1 from Trois Mélodies, Op. 8 [2:16]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
8. ‘Prélude’ from Prélude, Fugue et Variation, Op. 18, FWV 30[3:34]
9-11. ‘Sonate de Vinteuil’ for violin and piano - Hahn, Ysaÿe & Chaminade:
9. I. Nocturne in E flat major for violin and piano - Andantino (1906) [5:09]
Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931)
10. II. Mazurka de Salon No. 1 in G major for violin and piano ‘Dans le lointain’, Op. 10/1
from 2 Mazurkas de salon, Op. 10 (1884)
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
11. III. Sérénade espagnole, Op. 150 (arranged for piano and violin by Fritz Kreisler) [2:00]
12. Romance No. 3 in A-flat major - Andante moderato from Trois Romances sans paroles, Op. 17 [2:37]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
13. Elegie in A flat, WWV 93 [1:29]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
14. Nocturno* from Stimmungsbilder, Op. 9 (1882-84) [6:04]
15. Les berceaux* No. 1 from Trois Melodies, Op. 23 (arranged for solo piano by S. Diluka) [2:20]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
16. Mélodie, Op. 10/5 (Élégie) from Les Érinnyes [2:36]
17. Le secret, for voice and piano, No. 3 from Trois Mélodies, Op. 23 [2:15]
18. L’isle joyeuse, CD 109, L. 106 [5:54]
19. Les Rêveries du Prince Églantine (1907) poème No. 16 from Le rossignol éperdu, Série 1
Narration of an extract of text ‘La madeleine’ from the Proust novel Du côté de chez Swann, part of the series À la recherche du temps perdu. [6:14]
World premiere recordings*
Shani Diluka, piano (all works)
Orchestre de chambre de Paris / Hervé Niquet, conductor (tr. 1-3)
Natalie Dessay, soprano (tr. 7, 17)
Pierre Fouchenneret, violin (tr. 9-11)
Guillaume Gallienne (actor from the Comédie-Française), narrator (tr. 19)