This third instalment in our series encompassing all Fauré’s songs takes its title from the famous Silvestre setting Chanson d’amour and guides the listener on a journey through the panoply of human emotion. Alongside finely chiselled miniatures we have the early cycle Poème d’un jour (to poetry by Grandmougin), the suite from the Shakespeare/Haraucourt drama Shylock (which includes some notable rarities in the form of two-piano arrangements made with Fauré’s blessing by the composer Léon Boëllmann), and what is surely the apotheosis of the mélodie genre: La bonne chanson.
As with preceding volumes, Graham Johnson has employed a range 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 complete Fauré songs require four CDs, and the question arises as how best to programme them. 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 third volume of the Hyperion intégrale is Chanson d’amour – the phrase is taken from the Silvestre song of the same name. This is a very broad title of course, and the disc encompasses many different kinds of amorous music; in this procession of songs we hear the full range of emotional engagement, from light-hearted frivolity to the intensity of love at its most radiantly idealistic. On most occasions the composer matches the poet beautifully, although Hymne is perhaps an example of Fauré not being ready to express the full weight of Baudelaire’s text. Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre and Tristesse d’Olympio are what we would expect from an impressionable teenager, albeit a mightily gifted one. The light-weight gallantry of Sylvie is a perfect reflection of its poet’s caprice, although Nell is a rather deeper example of a name-specific valentine. The Poème d’un jour inhabits the passionate (and cynical) world of the belle époque with passion worn lightly – the whole episode is worthy of Colette’s Gigi. These are among the few Fauré songs which suggest Paris as their locale, although their poet hails from the Franche-Comté. The lover’s final ‘Adieu!’ is tinged only with the mildest regret; the vehement reaction to the end of a relationship of Fleur jetée could not be more different. Notre amour is a typical Fauré song – seemingly straightforward but containing various shades of meaning; this is music that in the hands of different performers can suggest voluble flightiness or sincere commitment. There is no such ambivalence in Le secret and Les présents which open a door on to the elevated style of the composer’s third period. The madrigal style of Chanson d’amour is rediscovered in Fauré’s incidental music for Haraucourt’s Shakespearean adaption Shylock; the composer weaves a quasi-sixteenth-century spell in love music that stretches from suppressed comedy (Madrigal) to the sumptuous, and heart-felt, music for Épithalame and Nocturne (arranged for piano duet with the composer’s blessing). Another piece of stage music, and not to be taken too seriously, is the Sérénade from Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme. All these melodies have been leading to the cycle that is surely the apotheosis of the love song as far as the French mélodie is concerned – La bonne chanson. Here the composer more than matches the rapturous earnestness of Verlaine’s words. This is the best-known of all Fauré’s song cycles and it represents an important peak in his career before he went on to musical pastures new. By way of reflective postlude the disc concludes with two love songs from the composer’s third period: Le ramier, and Le don silencieux.
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
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