Hyperion Records

Au rossignol
Au rossignol is a Lamartine masterpiece, and has much of the same character as Le soir. This magical evocation seems to break almost every rule pertaining to the writing of an interesting song: it is slow, it is long, it is strophic, and the accompaniment plods along in almost unremitting crotchets. On paper this already seems a disaster. Gounod is not afraid to eschew utterly any attempt to make the nightingale an excuse for virtuosity of either voice or finger. The warblings of the ‘voix céleste’ prefigured in the piano introduction are distinctly un-birdlike and of an almost Gluckian simplicity; they also seem irrevocably stuck in the tonic key with a slight move to the dominant. And yet no matter; it is Gounod the heartfelt melodist who prevails. The serious tone of Lamartine’s contemplations are wonderfully caught, and as soon as the voice enters it takes us down pathways which may be less harmonically adventurous than some but which reveal a sumptuously beautiful vista; one bower seems to lead effortlessly to the next as the vocal line unfolds with inevitable grace. When we have walked around the garden once we immediately wish to do so again. Thus we are under Gounod’s spell as he wields powers which seem like those of Schubert (the only composer whose mastery of the strophic song exceeds Gounod’s) combined with those of Fauré (the only French composer who builds seemingly endless melodies even more organically). In this type of song the sublime can seem very close to the sanctimonious, but a good performance (what legato singing it requires!) can successfully negotiate this danger.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993

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