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Hyperion Records

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The Talisman, or The Swallow-hole in the Bois d'Amour, Pont-Aven (1888) by Paul Serusier (1864-1927)
Musée d'Orsay, Paris / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67728
Recording details: July 2008
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: June 2009
Total duration: 19 minutes 8 seconds

'Ravel's sense of colour and atmosphere is infallible … Finley's mellifluous, malleable baritone is an ideal match for this repertoire, with lines eloquently floated, nuances subtly voiced and character sensitively defined. This is a beguiling programme, beautifully performed' (Gramophone)

'It feels inadequate just to describe this enchanting new collection from Gerald Finley and Julius Drake as the best modern recital devoted to the wonderfully varied world of Ravel's songs … Julius Drake's warm-toned playing is, as ever, a perfect foil, all captured in Hyperion's wonderful sound. Riches indeed' (BBC Music Magazine)

'These are for the most part works of cool restraint, with passion hidden beneath a jewelled surface, and Finley's wonderfully flexible voice achieves maximum effect with minimal means … Drake's playing is a marvel of delicacy and almost gamelan-like sonorities' (The Daily Telegraph)

'It's a beautiful disc that startles in ways you don't always expect … the poetic restraint of Finley's singing and Drake's playing are spellbinding. The settings of Marot and Ronsard are ravishingly done, and the mixture of irony and sadness they bring to Histoires naturelles is exceptional' (The Guardian)

'These are songs that deserve to be better known … there are wonderful settings of prose poems by Jules Renard in which the peacock parades, a swan glides across glittering water and a kingfisher perches on a fisherman's rod. Drake relishes Ravel's iridescent piano parts, shifting imperceptibly from picture-painting to psychological comment … [Don Quichotte] magnificently performed by Finley and Drake, these grand mélodies … are a compelling miniature drama in three acts … Finley matches Drake song for song, the naïve knight, the ardent lover and, in 'Chanson épique', a grave and gravelly voice for this most principled of heroes … every track on this fine CD is proof that Ravel … was a composer who rose to a given musical occasion with consummate artistry, conviction and originality' (International Record Review)

'Gerald Finley seems to have found his métier here, singing with an enlightened sense of vocal agility and also fidelity to the textual nuances of Ravel's music. This is one of the best Ravel recitals I have heard in a long time (and they don't come often) so if this composer and his songs have any meaning for you at all, grab this disc quick. Julius Drake adds his normally sensitive partnership in music that is truly written for two' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'Gerald Finley dares to tackle and all-Ravel program, and it only takes a few selections to recognize his mastery … the Key here is the Canadian's entirely natural approach, free of affectation or overinterpretation and supported by a voice of consistent beauty, warmth and flexibility … what emerges is not just a great display of vocal artistry, style, diction and characterization' (Opera News)

Histoires naturelles
first performed in January 1907
author of text

Other recordings available for download
The Songmakers' Almanac, Richard Jackson (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)   This recording is not available for download
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
With Histoires naturelles, on prose poems by Jules Renard, Ravel’s playfulness tipped over into controversy and the premiere in January 1907 was a noisy affair. His chief crime was to eliminate some of the final mute ‘e’s, in the popular style of the café concert. In the opening Le paon, the peacock’s pomposity is undercut by the shortening of ‘la fi-an-cé-e n’ar-ri-ve pas’ to ‘la fian-cé’ n’ar-riv’ pas’. There was even shouting when, in Le grillon, as the cricket took a rest (‘Il se repose’) Ravel’s music came to a sudden halt. Equally disconcerting, after the busy-busy movements of the cricket (which some commentators have likened to Ravel himself), is the magical, visionary epilogue in D flat major, where he later admitted he had deliberately allowed his Romantic inclinations to surface. Debussy, who by 1907 was no longer a friend, complained of the ‘factitious Americanism’ of the more light-hearted passages in the cycle, but even he had to admit Le cygne was beautiful music. The piano part is marked ‘very gentle and enveloped in pedal’ and the setting of seven semiquavers in the right hand against two in the left makes for effortless progress, quite different from the cricket’s precise gestures. Ravel dedicated the song to Misia Godebska, a mover and shaker in Parisian musical circles who was soon to become Diaghilev’s right-hand woman, and it could be that Ravel saw her as the swan, gliding smoothly through society with her eye fixed on the main chance.

‘Not a bite, this evening’, complains the fisherman at the start of Le martin-pêcheur. The cool, diamond-like, almost Messiaenic chords do not react (unlike the 1907 audience which here rose to an apogee of outrage) but go their way ‘as slowly as possible’. Here is a music of silence, the singer somehow conveying breathlessness while breathing deeply. Pierre Bernac called it ‘the most difficult mélodie of the set’. But for the pianist the worst moments come in La pintade. With its gruppetti and shrill, explosive acciaccaturas, it looks back not just to Alborada del gracioso but to another fowl-piece, ‘Baba-Yaga’ from Musorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition. It makes an entertaining and aesthetically uncomplicated finale to the set, but also displays Ravel’s aggressive side.

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2009

Other albums featuring this work
'Le Bestiaire' (A66149)
Le Bestiaire
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) A66149  Archive Service (LP transfer)   This album is not available for download

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