This fourth—and final—instalment in our series encompassing all Fauré’s songs takes as its title a line from La chanson d’Ève, the matchless cycle which confirmed its composer’s status as the master of French song and which concludes the Hyperion intégrale.
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.
An alphabetical index to this four-disc cycle is printed in the booklet.
Other recommended albums
The Hyperion French Song Edition has already issued single-disc selections of mélodies by Georges Bizet and Camille Saint-Saëns as well as double albums of selected songs by Charles Gounod and Reynaldo Hahn. The first composer to have an intégrale in this edition was Henri Duparc; this was followed by Déodat de Séverac and Louis Durey (both on single discs). Double-album sets of the complete songs of Ernest Chausson and Emmanuel Chabrier then appeared.
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) attempted a chronological approach (at least, not until the recent appearance of a re-mastered edition of the Schubert songs,). 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 fourth and final volume of the Hyperion intégrale is Dans un parfum de roses. The phrase is taken from the Van Lerberghe setting from La chanson d’Ève. Amidst the programme’s many roses (clearly the composer’s favourite) are other flowerings (jasmine, for example, is a recurring theme) in various gardens, or flourishing in the wild. The distance between the talking flowers of the first song and the Eden of the concluding cycle is a musical journey that takes the listener from the light-heartedly ridiculous to the sublime. Flowers are often to be found in other composers’ work (Schumann’s settings also extol roses and jasmine), but Fauré’s attraction to nature in an enclosed setting is deeply personal. His father had been headmaster of the École normale at Montgauzy, near Foix, and the young boy had spent many hours in the gardens surrounding the chapel where plainchant was sung accompanied by an old harmonium. This was his first experience of music. At the same time he experienced the sight and smells of flowers and greenery in his very own walled paradise, different strands of memory that were combined in a synthesis of visual and tonal enchantment. When Fauré thinks back to the beauties of that first ‘jardin clos’, the enclosed monastery garden at Montgauzy, he unearths harmonies that flower as luxuriously, ceaselessly, as nature itself – sometimes secretly, unobtrusively, and sometimes in a glorious blaze of colour. Time and again Fauré’s mélodies invite us into different corners of the same secluded retreat: shaded arbours en sourdine, oases of repose and a mysterious, secret sensuality. The song cycle Le jardin clos (heard in volume 2 of this series) contains some wonderful songs of arboreal seclusion (Dans la nymphée above all) and the Mirages cycle has the mesmerizing Jardin nocturne (another indication of how this theme permeates Fauré’s output), but it is La chanson d’Ève which is the musical gardener’s paradise – the primeval flowering of a profusion of roses, both flame-red and white, as part of the miracle of Creation.
The disc opens with the composer’s first song, Le papillon et la fleur. This little tableau of courtship in nature between butterfly and blossom establishes the importance of floral imagery in Fauré’s output from the very beginning. In Rêve d’amour Victor Hugo is even more specific – there is mention of jasmine, lily and woodbine. Jasmine reappears in Dans les ruines d’une abbaye, a song about the ongoing flowering of love between newly-weds; the scent of the blossom is also what pulls the dreamers back to earth in Le pays des rêves, and the same flower is all a-bloom on the pathway that leads to the beloved’s door in Le plus doux chemin. In L’aurore half-open roses greet the dawn – it is this flower’s first appearance on the disc. In the second strophe of La rançon Baudelaire gives some stern advice about the growing of roses, a metaphor for the creation of art where a garden of carefully cultivated flowers is likened to the approval of the seraphim. The dawn serenade of Aubade takes place in the background of a delicately flowering garden; the wilting lilacs of Ici-bas! remind us that love cannot last for ever. The beautiful Aurore is a dawn scene which opens with the first of two powerful appearances on this disc of the phrase ‘jardins de la nuit’; the other is in Soir, one of Fauré’s greatest songs with its imagery of a pale lily of purity and fidelity. This masterpiece begins with the lines ‘Now the gardens of Night begin to flower. / Lines, colours, and sounds begin to blur’. The composer might have penned these words himself, so perfectly do they suit his music. Les roses d’Ispahan begins with rose petal, jasmine and orange blossom before the poet goes on to praise the beauties of his beloved Leilah; but the music is so constructed that it is nature’s exotic scent, not the picture of the woman, that wafts back to us in Fauré’s sultry circular musical construction. In Le parfum impérissable the attar of Lahore roses is a metaphor for imperishable love. La rose (Leconte de Lisle) is as ardent and elevated a hymn to any variety of flower as exists in the entire song repertoire. The ‘melodious park’ in the moonlight of Arpège, this strange image of a ‘garden of vows’, might almost have been created by Mallarmé. These songs from the composer’s third recueil of mélodies lead us to Fauré’s greatest musical garden, the doorway to his final period. This is no less than the biblical Eden, a paradise aglow in the colours of symbolism, the musical apotheosis of that garden in which, like Eve herself, the young Gabriel absorbed the sights and sounds of a newly discovered world.
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 how fascinated Fauré was with aquatic and nautical subjects; the second volume, Un paysage choisi, took the listener back (mostly) to dry land in all its astonishing diversity. Chanson d’amour assembled romantic songs of every kind, culminating in that paean to love, La bonne chanson. In each of the four recitals in this series the songs are arranged under broad themes where the composer’s songs are explored chronologically, each programme containing examples of the three styles that, very broadly speaking, characterize this great 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 four discs 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