Sérénade italienne is perhaps Chausson’s most extrovert mélodie, certainly the only one when we feel ourselves buffetted by the elements. If there is something facile in the accompanying triplets, the tugging undercurrent of the left hand with its two-against-three rhythms in the bass clef seems Brahmsian (Chausson might well have known a song like Liebestreu) and adds interesting detail to what might have been empty pianistic oscillations. The Italian serenata required by the poem (this is Chausson’s only foray into Mediterranean pastiche) makes the composer dare to write music of a more sentimental and enthusiastic nature than usual. There is even something noble about the sweep of unfolding panorama which rippling arpeggios do nothing to undermine; tolling bell-like minims in the left hand add gravitas to sentimentality. Isabelle Bretaudeau speaks of a ‘sensation de profondeur, d’espace—de vaste respiration’ and in this way the music reminds one of Duparc: the verse beginning ‘Sur la mer calme et sombre’ (the music here switches from E major to A flat) seems to be situated beneath as grand a heavenly cupola as that of Phidyle, and shares that song’s tonality. The shameless exploitation of a gorgeous enharmonic modulation (E flat on the word ‘vois’ in A flat major becomes D sharp on the word ‘nous’ in B major) is effective while the Liberace-like cascades of the postlude now seem a hackneyed expression of pianistic exuberance.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2001