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Lionel Daunais (1901–1982) Mélodies
Jacqueline Woodley (soprano); Annina Haug (mezzo); Pierre Rancourt (baritone)
Michel Bellavance (flute); Marc Bourdeau (piano)
rec. 2021, Montréal, Canada CENTREDISCS CMCCD30122 
Montréal-born Lionel Daunais was a handsome and charming practitioner working in many milieus in Québec: singer, composer, lyricist, stage director, radio personality and artistic director. This disc, which reveals him as an inspired adept in the field of French language songs, marks the passing of forty years since his death and does so in a very agreeable way. The artists engaged are Canadian and Swiss with Marc Bourdeau - the mover and shaker behind this project - serving as pianist and, in some cases, arranger.
There are 27 songs on this CD – solos, duos, trios – showing Daunais as populariser, folk advocate, tunesmith and writer of mélodies in the grand and touching style of Poulenc. The piano is the accompanying instrument, but also the flute on occasion. Bourdeau’s choice and range of songs wanders far and wide and through French and Québecois poets.
The booklet is very utilitarian (I intend praise) - well conceived and presented with photographs but lacks texts and translations. If you have a mind to delve deeper then there is a website with the sung French words but still nothing in English. Some songs are as short as 48 seconds and some just over five minutes.
‘Le petit chien de laine’ has about it an innocent flamboyance that resembles Warlock’s ‘Lillygay’. Then there’s the disarming charm of ‘À ma cousine’ which speaks from levels of higher joy with easygoing sweetness and there’s a trickling piano to add to the beguilement. ‘Simone ou les feuilles mortes’ draws on darker and more operatic hues from Anna Haug.
In ‘Doux Temps’ Jacqueline Woodley lets us into a most beautiful song with a gentle swing and finds time to place a single plangent note to end. ‘Chanson du maître cordonnier’ is a trio and is one of the lighter songs with the clinking piano evoking the cordonnier’s constant tapping hammer. ‘Trois flocons de neige’ is another trio; a thing of tender flurries and gentle regrets amid the caresses of the music.
‘Le vent des forêts’ is a vehicle for Pierre Rancourt to touch in the dark hues of passion. ‘Le diable dans la nuit’ is an unusually short and fast song flighted with batwings - all leathery skin, fine bones and the devil’s cackle. ‘La dame à la poire’ casts a plangent spell and its subtle harmonies are strongly reminiscent of Poulenc. It’s a song that would also suit Laurent Naouri, as would ‘Les mots d’amour’ - the work of a master melodist.
The Vaudeville style of ‘Les perceurs de coffres-forts’ with its coughs and falsetto and other stage stuff suggests the saunter of a man-about-town. Lord Berners would have warmed to this music. ‘À quoi bon rêver’ includes a part for flute as well as piano. Its sweet sing-song is wafted aloft by the liberating flute. ‘Le cercle de couture’ is another quasi Mozartean song suggestive of Reynaldo Hahn’s stage works. ‘Le cœur oublieux’ is a calm, centred and regretful song.
Given its subject matter Daunais naturally conjures a glittering sweet melody for ‘L’hirondelle’. ‘Théo’ has a slow dignified gait but there’s more humour in the duet ‘Monsieur le Curé’. ‘Chanson d’amour’ is touching and full-hearted. ‘Poème hindou’ reminds the listener of the Gallic obsession with the far East and of France’s historical possessions in those territories. It’s smokingly operatic and pagan.
The song for female voice, ‘L’innocente’ is a sweet amble of a song. ‘Le sacristain’ again suggests a show-tune and, as it is sung, one can easily imagine it being performed arm in arm by the male and female singers. The last mélodie is ‘Une petite chandelle’. One of the longer songs, it is all melting sweetness and rounds down into contented silence.
All in all, this is a moving and entertaining sequence - the product of careful choice, sequencing and stylish singing.
Le petit chien de laine
À ma cousine
Simone ou les feuilles mortes
Chanson du maître cordonnier
Trois flocons de neige
Le vent des forêts
Le diable dans la nuit
La dame à la poire
Les mots d'amour
Les perceurs de coffres-forts
À quoi bon rêver
Le cercle de couture
Le coeur oublieux
L’amour de moi
Le chien de Jean de Nivelle
Monsieur le Curé
Une petite chandelle