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Track(s) taken from CDA67133/4


First line:
La plus charmante femme
author of text

Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: March 2001
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: July 2002
Total duration: 2 minutes 53 seconds

Cover artwork: L'Intrigue Nocturne by Gaston de Latouche (1854-1913)
Sotheby’s Picture Library


'[A] real treasure of a treasury' (BBC Music Magazine)

'I cannot begin to tell you what delights await you on these discs … irresistible gems of melody, wit and tenderness. The enterprise has clearly been a labour of love for all involved' (The Sunday Telegraph)

'Here is something so joyous and heart-warming that it's difficult to know where to start … anyone with a love of French music and poetry will find this a knock-out pleasure' (International Record Review)

'Adorable indeed … these songs steal into the heart. This is a set made for a lifetime's listening and enjoyment' (The Times)

'Both CDs are packed with gems, most of them rarities … a three-star issue for Chabrier's adorable music, Johnson's de luxe documentation and Lott's delightful singing' (The Sunday Times)

‘[Chabrier’s] 43 gorgeous songs find ideal interpreters on these two discs; the voices are beautifully limpid and the phrasing is exquisite’ (Classic FM Magazine)

‘there are major discoveries to be made here’ (Fanfare, USA)

'If you like French song this album is a treasure trove' (Financial Times)

‘Quite a serious treat for aficionados of the great French master especially as the performances by sopranos Lott and McGreevy are totally flawless and delivered with great charm and confidence throughout … Hugely enjoyable’ (AdLib)

‘the splendid group of artists here assembled get to the heart of every piece’ (Musical Opinion)

‘this superbly-produced set of his complete melodies should be welcomed by all’ (Classics Today)
This enchanting little serenade brings to mind Gounod’s Victor Hugo setting of the same name, composed in 1857. The similarities extend from the pastoral 6/8 metre to the final word – ‘toujours’ – common to both refrains. Chabrier is less ambitious than Gounod in terms of coloratura (although the courtly roulade in the opening bars of the vocal line for ‘charmante femme’ is indeed charming) but the debt to Gounod is clear. As in L’Enfant there is an earthiness to the music which is nurtured by a strong bass line which borders on the bourdon. For Chabrier the persistent drone effect (particularly in the lilting sequences of the nine-bar introduction) suggests the vitality of country music-making. This does not preclude a gallantry which suggests the sophisticated courtier in an old-world setting. Such a piece would not be out of place in an opera (such as Le Roi malgré lui) set in the late sixteenth century. The vocal line graced with crushed notes is already an established trademark of this composer; there are also signs here of Chabrier’s developing fondness for the use of wide and unexpected intervals – a mannerism such as this would sound awkward in other hands, but time and again these touches of seeming eccentricity confer a heady charm on the music.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002

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