is richly textured and low in tessitura, La fée aux chansons
is its mirror-image and opposite. Ever since Gerald Moore selected this song to be performed at his eightieth birthday concert twenty-five years ago, this shy and neglected song of aerial enchantment has been a personal favourite. Of course it has the faults of the sweeter Silvestre settings, a kind of winsomeness which borders on (but does not fall into) the sugary trap of many of the Massenet songs. (The harmonic structure of the piece is too strong and well planned for the structure to collapse into the shapelessness which undermines that composer’s mélodies.) Of course the poem is nonsense, but it is a cleverly crafted confection, and a perfect shape (and length) for a fast song that uses one fleet syllable after the other. Silvestre was right to place it in his ‘Vers pour être chantés’ (in Les ailes d’or
). Fauré is usually a composer wedded to his bass lines, but occasionally, in the interests of lightness and brightness he transports us (as in some of his piano music) into the higher regions of the treble clef. The listener is sprinkled with glistening stardust, and Fauré earns his nickname as ‘The Master of Charms’. But the music contains a very special surprise. This is the music for the poem’s fourth verse. We have been delighted by the lightness of the fairy’s tread in spring and summer, but autumn brings different music. For fourteen bars (marked molto meno mosso
) we enter another harmonic sphere. Fauré allows himself (ever aware, and perhaps with a rueful smile) to broach Debussy’s world of mists and mysterious allusion. Here mellowness contrasts with the glitter of what has gone before – a ravishingly beautiful interlude; but Fauré does not allow himself to dally long in his rival’s territory. A swift rise of triplets transports us out of the autumnal reverie and the flight of the swallows sweeps us up from the doldrums with precipitous grace. The postlude of this very superior piece of salon music (Chaminade could only have dreamed of writing a song like this) is feather-light and ineffably charming.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005