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Hyperion Records

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L'Intrigue Nocturne by Gaston de Latouche (1854-1913)
Sotheby’s Picture Library
Track(s) taken from CDA67133/4
Recording details: March 2001
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: July 2002
Total duration: 1 minutes 20 seconds

Chants d'oiseaux
First line:
Que nous chantons nos amours
author of text

The pulsating chords in B flat major with which this song begins would encourage a Schubertian to believe that he was about to hear a performance of the divine Nachthelle for tenor and male chorus. In fact what follows is shorter, but hardly less delicious. This song is one of Chabrier’s earliest masterpieces – a perfect example of his musical conjuring. His later animal songs are justly famous, and here we have their precursor, a song for the birds who, perched on their branches, are in a position to comment on the ups and downs of a human love-affair. For the first time on this disc we have a song where the composer insists on a hushed atmosphere, a mood on musical tiptoe which suits the voyeuristic delight of the winged observers.

The markings seldom rise above pianissimo and the piece dies away in ppp. The melody is somewhat like a schoolyard jingle or nursery-rhyme, simple music for bird-brains and absolutely enchanting nevertheless. What surrounds the melody is more sophisticated: subtly harmonised chords in the twittering right-hand music and a doubling of the vocal melody in the left hand, a dangerous device which Chabrier, like Ravel after him, is able to use to the most eloquent effect. Here such doublings suggest suspense and intrigue. As with all the songs from this period the composer has a penchant for high held notes which are turned into pedal points underneath which the piano writing moves in unexpected directions. Add to this concoction such Chabrierian trademarks as rumbling tremolos deep in the bass (still pianissimo), staccato left-hand chords like pizzicato strings, sudden elongations of phrases (the insertion of bars in 4/16), and we have a song which could have been written by no one else.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002

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