French song seems to be in vogue, with a similar selection of flower-related songs (plus German lieder) from soprano Carolyn Sampson just released. But the sumptuous mezzo of Alice Coote just edges it, for me, in this perfumed programme of 19th and 20th-century love songs.
There’s something unpredictable about Coote’s performance—almost an excess of emotion, with sudden swells of sound on words like ‘roses’, ‘baisé’, bien aimée’. It suits the heady, fin de siècle atmosphere induced by the words of Paul Verlaine, Jean Moréas and Guillaume Apollinaire, author of Poulenc’s giddy waltz-song ‘Voyage à Paris’.
The two chansons by Camille Saint-Saëns are my highlight, though Chabrier’s ‘Toutes les fleurs’ (also covered by Sampson) is spectacular here in its colouring and extreme dynamics. ‘Aimons nous’ sends shivers down the spine, as Coote’s rich mezzo caresses the long slow melody, her pianist (the redoubtable Graham Johnson) supporting with light, steady chords.
Coote luxuriates in these nostalgic songs, with their flowery allusions to erotic encounters, the beauty of youth and the transience of love. The recording features some of the most famous chansons of the period, from the title song, Hahn’s ‘L’heure exquise’ and Chausson’s ‘Le temps des lilas’ to Berlioz’s ‘Le spectre de la rose’. It is a truly mouthwatering selection.