Hyperion Records

Mignon finds Gounod in touching form as a serious mélodie composer. The poem of course is Louis Gallet’s paraphrase of the celebrated Kennst du das Land? from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. Gounod himself as the composer of Faust was deeply aware, whatever that opera’s many shortcomings in relation to its parent work, of Goethe’s importance; he knew very well the sad story of the waif Mignon who had been kidnapped from Italy and longed to return there. The song has the typical Gounod characteristics of a palpitating accompaniment over which the vocal line, given a singer of good breath span, is able to sail in rapturous flight. The composer achieves the right mood of yearning and aspiration with good strong climaxes in which the phrases on ‘C’est là’ are a match for Wolf’s anguished repeats of ‘Dahin!’ in his setting. Taken as a whole, however, Gounod fails to achieve the specific drama and pathos of the German composers. Part of this may be to blame on Gallet’s rather wishy-washy paraphrase of the original; it might have been interesting to see what Gounod would have made of Gautier’s La Chanson de Mignon, written in the metre of the Goethe original.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993

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