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Track(s) taken from CDA67141/2

Les cygnes

First line:
Ton âme est un lac d'amour
author of text

Stephen Varcoe (baritone), 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: 4 minutes 4 seconds

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


'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)
Les Cygnes is vintage Hahn in his most expansive mood. It is dedicated to the poet Jean Lahor (Henri Cazalis) who provided Duparc with the texts of three songs—Chanson triste, Sérénade florentine and Extase. He also wrote the poems set by Saint-Saëns as Danse macabre. Saint-Saëns also had a connection with Armand Renaud, poet of Les Cygnes and now all but forgotten: Renaud provided Saint-Saëns with the texts of his song cycle Mélodies persanes. The success of this song (marked ‘calme et tres blanc’) is largely due to Hahn’s skill in inventing a limpid accompaniment suggestive of the ever-widening ripples to be seen on a large lake in the wake of the swans’ royal progress across the water. The very hands of the pianist seem to move with a type of breast-stroke movement in the playing of it. Above this gliding moto perpetuo the composer writes a vocal line of some nobility. If his actual melodic invention is not equal to that of some of the other masters of the mélodie, his deployment of his musical resources is extremely cunning. Note the way that touching modulations sometimes take the place of organic development or longer-breathed melodies. As always, Hahn is a master of placing a certain key word (normally at the end of the song as in the final ‘vous’ in Infidélité) on the most exquisite cushion as if it is to be presented to the public like a precious jewel. A wonderful example of this is the song’s final word: after the long phrase an octave lower which precedes it (‘Vois, comme ils en font le tour de ton …’), the word ‘âme’ seems suddenly to float star-like in the watery heavens.

from notes by Graham Johnson ©

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