This second instalment in our exciting new series encompassing all Fauré’s songs takes its title from the opening line of Clair de lune—‘Votre âme est un paysage choisi’ (‘Your soul is a chosen landscape’)—which is regarded by many as representing the pinnacle of Fauré’s considerable achievement in the genre. Here we have songs reflecting the various seasons of the year, atmospheric landscapes from Tuscany to Versailles, and the various mystical symbols of Van Lerberghe’s Le jardin clos.
As with volume one, Graham Johnson has employed a veritable panoply of artists—the very finest interpreters of French song that could be found. Generous commentaries are provided for each song along with the original poems and English translations.
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The Hyperion French Song Edition has already issued single-disc selections of mélodies byand as well as double albums of selected songs by and . The first composer to have an intégrale in this edition was ; this was followed by and (both on single discs). Double-album sets of the complete songs of and then appeared. The composers listed above are all great masters; a passionate case could be made for each of them in terms of their importance and significance in the song repertoire. But it is surely no disrespect to these figures to say that, with the issue of this intégrale of Gabriel Fauré’s mélodies, the Hyperion French Song Edition has entered into the mainstream of a medium where the other abiding immortals are Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc.
The complete Fauré songs require four CDs, and the question arises as how best to programme them. Neither the Hyperion Schubert Edition nor the Schumann (nearly 50 CDs between them) has attempted a chronological approach. Each of those lieder programmes has been issued one at a time. The Ameling–Souzay–Baldwin complete Fauré songs on French EMI – a set now thirty years old – was issued in a new chronological order established by the great Fauré scholar Jean-Michel Nectoux. This box contained ten sumptuous LP sides; there were thus nine opportunities for musical and mental punctuation in listening to the composer’s complete mélodie output at home. It does not help that Fauré’s creative life subdivides into three, rather than four, periods. In a recording presented in chronological terms the first one and a quarter CDs would have to be given over to the composer’s early works. These songs are charming, always interesting, indeed they are often much more than that; but the Fauré connoisseur might consider them too lightweight to be heard all at once as they do not represent this composer at his apogee. On the other hand the masterly cycles of the composer’s later years (another one and a quarter CDs perhaps) can intimidate the music-lover who prefers Fauré at his more conventionally lyrical and accessible. For the works that most frequently appear in song recitals one must explore the mélodies of the middle period. It would not even be possible to extrapolate the ‘popular’ Fauré on to a single chronological disc: the towering presence of La bonne chanson would confound any such asset stripping.
One has to weigh the undeniable intellectual satisfaction of chronology, hearing each song as it passes by in its correct sequence, with the more relaxed pleasure of listening to a well-chosen group of songs – with texts that are juxtaposed for a deeper reason than chronological happenstance. Our aim here is to provide repertoire diversity while retaining chronology within each individual disc issue. The second volume of the Hyperion intégrale is entitled Un paysage choisi – the phrase taken of course from the Verlaine poem Clair de lune, the opening line of which is ‘Votre âme est un paysage choisi’ (‘Your soul is a chosen landscape’). Fauré chose his song-landscapes well, and with a fastidious sense of locale. Vladimir Jankélévitch wrote that Fauré’s songs were ‘un atlas du cœur, peuplé de fantoches et de créatures imaginaires’. This disc includes songs for all seasons: spring – Tristesse, Puisqu’ici-bas toute âme, La messagère, Dans la pénombre (all songs for the month of April); summer – Mai, Prison; autumn – Chant d’automne, Automne, Dans la forêt de septembre; winter – Noël, Il est né, le divin enfant. The song La fée aux chansons encompasses all the seasons in quick succession. We move from the gothic ruins of an abbey described by Hugo – Dans les ruines d’une abbaye – to the gardens of Louis XV’s Versailles evoked by Verlaine – Clair de lune. The Tuscan landscape is a background to love – Sérénade toscane and Après un rêve. Rainy London and Mons in Belgium are both on the hectic itinerary of Verlaine’s vagabondage with Rimbaud – Spleen and Prison. There are other landscapes which are less specific (the broad sweep of Le voyageur) but no less evocative: the portrait of Greek antiquity which is Lydia, the ‘valleys, hillsides, leafy woods’ of L’absent, and the mystical symbolism of Van Lerberghe’s poems for Le jardin clos with their changing locales – a walled garden, the sea ‘rocked by the eternal rhythm of waves and space’, deep in the grotto, or finally the pale sand, perhaps of ancient Egypt, where ‘eternal stones still trace the image of her brow’.
Each of the four instalments of the series charts Fauré’s progress from youth to old age from a different angle, and with different repertoire. The theme of the first volume was Au bord de l’eau, both the title of a famous mélodie, and a reminder of how fascinated Fauré was with aquatic and nautical subjects; Un paysage choisi takes the listener back (mostly) to dry land in all its astonishing diversity. The two subsequent recitals will be arranged under similarly broad themes that will take the listener chronologically through the composer’s songs, each programme containing examples of the three styles that, very broadly speaking, characterize this songwriter: the young salon charmer, the mature master with a tendency to ever-deepening musical experiments, and the inscrutable sage whose music remains as challenging as any written in the twentieth century. Taken together these discs will comprise an intégrale of the composer’s mélodies. It is the breadth of these journeys, and the variegated terrain through which they pass, that underlines the greatness of this particular composer and his genius for continual metamorphosis.
Graham Johnson © 2005
Other albums in this series