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Track(s) taken from CDA67141/2

Fêtes galantes

First line:
Les donneurs de sérénades
author of text

Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: December 1995
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown & Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: June 1996
Total duration: 1 minutes 47 seconds

Cover artwork: Two Angels (c1870) by Charles Sellier (1830-1882)

Other recordings available for download

Martyn Hill (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)


'What treasures are here … the two discs provide an unmissable opportunity to explore a composer who is underrated and overlooked perhaps because he was too modest about himself. There are melodies here which Massenet, Debussy, Fauré and Ravel would have been proud to call their own. No one can fail to have their musical horizon broadened by these discs, which will assuredly come high among my Records of the Year, any year … these discs have given me as much pleasure as any I have heard this year … to hear Felicity Lott in Les étoiles, Susan Bickley in Offrande and Ian Bostridge in Tyndaris is to relish some of the most accomplished vocal artistry of the day' (The Sunday Telegraph)

'Some fascinating rarities' (Gramophone)

'To wonderful songs … [the artists] bring delicacy, grace, an emotion the more poignant for being understated … Not to be missed' (The Observer)

'This gorgeous set … Irresistible' (The Sunday Times)

'This is music for the intellect, interpreted with the utmost sensitivity' (Hi-Fi News)

'Ces chanteurs brittaniques interprètent ces petits bijoux avec soin touchant. Par la qualité du phrasé, ils lui restituent sa qualité essentielle, le sens du mot et de la ligne mélodique' (Répertoire, France)

'Graham Johnson choisir ses chanteurs qui possèdent une musicalité irréprochable et un français non seulement intelligible mais évocateur—et de les accompanger avec tant de poésie' (Diapason, France)
Fêtes galantes is another Verlaine poem which many a French composer has felt obliged to set. There is the Watteau-like elegance—somewhat laid back—of Fauré’s song, entitled Mandoline. Debussy’s early setting of the same title is breathless and piquant, a whirl of activity in a froth of swirling skirts. Hahn’s combines attributes of each without quite being as successful as either. In his hands there is something (deliberately?) banal about these exchanges of courtly pleasantries. Fauré suggests the artifice of studied self-control, but here we have the small-talk of Louis XV’s Versailles exchanged by the mindless courtiers and hangers-on. The left hand in the treble clef sounds the twanged note of the mandoline, the right is preoccupied with a the circular repetition of a high and tinkling phrase in double thirds which is cheekily repeated until the entry of the voice. ‘L’éternel Clitandre’ gets a raised eyebrow of impatience and boredom with a sudden plunge in the bass. At ‘Leurs courtes vestes de soie’ Hahn introduces an individual touch, unusual in his writing: descending semitones in the vocal line are followed by upward jumps of an octave; these are abetted by deft piano arpeggios in the same direction. Accompanying the final word ‘brise’ two chromatic scales in contrary motion usher in a final ritornello. There is a real impression of emptiness at the end of it all, and this gay superficiality may well have been exactly what the composer intended.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996

Other albums featuring this work

Hahn: Chansons grises & other songs
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