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Track(s) taken from CDA66856

Le pas d'armes du Roi Jean

First line:
Par saint Gille
author of text
Odes et Ballades (No 12)

François Le Roux (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: January 1996
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: January 1997
Total duration: 4 minutes 57 seconds

Cover artwork: À l'ombres des bosquets chante un jeune poète by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891)
Reproduced by permission of The Wallace Collection, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London


'This is the most resounding blow yet to be struck for the mélodies of Saint-Saëns … Le Roux is one of the most charismatic performers of our time … this is certainly one of the best things he has done so far. A double welcome for performers and rare repertory' (Gramophone)

'Musical jewels surface with delightful consistency in this 27-song recital. An absorbing and revelatory disc' (BBC Music Magazine)

'There's hardly a dud among these 30-or-so songs on this well filled, perfectly recorded disc, an ideal accompaniment to a hot summer evening' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Another immensely pleasant recital from Hyperion, both in content and performance. [François Le Roux] is establishing himself as the leading French baritone of the day' (Classic CD)

'François Le Roux est l'interprète prédestiné. Son intelligence des mots, son sens de la juste inflexion font ici merveille' (Diapason, France)

'Apoya magnificamente al baritono, firmando entre ambos un trabajo auténticamente digno de conocerse. Sonido exemplar' (CD Compact, Spain)
It seems amazing that Saint-Saëns wrote this ballad in 1852 at the age of seventeen, for it is certain that he never managed anything better, or more popular with the general public. It is one of the first songs in the French repertoire which uses deliberate archaisms (now familiar as film-music clichés) and suggestions of modal harmony to evoke a world-gone-by of troubadours and brave knights. All it needs is Erroll Flynn to stride across the sound-stage to set the seal on the bluff camaraderie which evokes a Hollywood historical romance, for this song’s narrator is something of a wag, and the song has long been used as a vehicle for every amateur French baritone who fancies himself as Jack the Lad in tights. Like L’Attente this is the music of horse-ride, and we feel the excitement as the narrator approaches the capital city, the hub of the world. The overjoyed cry of ‘C'est Paris’ (and the clever build-up before it) is worthy of Poulenc who placed that city on the pedestal of his affections. Saint-Saëns’ devices and treatment of the various episodes are simple throughout, and highly telling: at mention of the fair Isolde, sweeping downward arpeggios as if painting the flow of her tresses; the fanfares of the joust and the excited stamping of the horses as they thunder in the lists; the outrageously sanctimonious appearance of monks and virgins to quasi-modal chords. All these things seem natural and unforced, and we realise that the composer himself was young enough to take this stirring evocation at face value. The song ends with an elegant flourish of a quill pen where staccati in voice and piano scratch the parchment (and the surface of the stave) with gallant nonchalance. In signing off in this manner the singer seems to shrug, as if such excitement and spilling of blood is all in a day’s work in old France. In 1903 Debussy humorously added the first four lines of this poem as a motto to his own song Chevaux de bois as an ironie comment on Verlaine’s wooden horses.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997

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