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Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
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L’absent (1876) is said to have been written for the composer’s wife as a rather belated apology in song (the words are Gounod’s own) for his English escapade with Mrs Weldon. The story about this was so well known and discussed in the drawing rooms of both Paris and London at the time that an open recantation of this sort must have seemed appropriate. It might not have been lost on Gounod that such a public statement of mea culpa was also a strong selling point for the music. The piece is probably one of the composer’s most famous mélodies, and with justification. The rippling accompaniment flows seraphically beneath an exceptionally beautiful (and extremely difficult) long-breathed vocal line. César Franck might easily have written this perfumed and beatific music. It is to Gounod’s credit that he somehow avoids the sugary sentimentality which would make the listener question the composer’s sincerity. In a good performance the music radiates a noble sense of regret and loss, with just the slightest whiff of attitudinizing. It helps to have the words sung by a soprano; men and women have a different way of spinning a line.
Ô silence des nuits dont la voix seule est douce,
Quand je n’ai plus sa voix,
Mystérieux rayons, qui glissez sur la mousse
Dans l’ombre de ses bois,
Dites-moi si ses yeux, à l’heure où tout sommeille
Se rouvrent doucement
Et si ma bien-aimée alors que moi je veille,
Se souvient de l’absent.
Quand la lune est aux cieux baignant de sa lumière
Les grands bois de l’azure;
Quand des cloches du soir qui tintent la prière
Vibre l’écho si pur,
Dites-moi si son âme, un instant recueillie
S’élève avec leur chant,
Et si de leurs accords la paisible harmonie
Lui rappelle l’absent!
Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
O silence of night, whose voice alone is sweet,
When I shall no longer have her voice,
Mysterious beams which glide over the moss
In the shade of these woods
Tell me if, in the hours when all sleep, her eyes
And if my beloved then, while I lie awake,
Remembers the absent one.
When the moon is in the heavens, bathing with light
The great woods and the sky;
When the echo of the evening prayer bells
Rings so pure,
Tell me if her soul, silent for a moment,
Lifts with their song,
And if the sweet harmony of their sound
Reminds her of the absent one.