The effect of this proclamatory style (befitting the announcement of an edict) is that it makes this music sound less like Chabrier as we know and love him. This may account for the fact that singers hardly ever choose to sing it. The individuality of Credo d’amour, apart from certain inimitably Chabrierian touches, is pallid in comparison to the Rostand, Gérard and Mendès settings. At times (during the introduction for example) one may even imagine that the music is English: the opening ‘Maestoso sans lenteur’ with its portentous left-hand octaves evokes a certain kind of nineteenth-century organ writing; it might very well pass for Parry or Elgar in ‘nobilmente’ mode. Of course this is not in itself a bad thing, but we look for something less self-conscious in Chabrier. The possibility that this may be the Jerusalem of French mélodie is swept aside at certain irreverent moments. After the first four lines of the first strophe who else but Chabrier would place a left-hand tremolo deep in the bass – a frisson of delight – under the word ‘femmes’, and the saucy acciacciatura on the chord under ‘elles’? But then the vocal line becomes visionary and ‘maestoso’ once again, and that momentary vision of slap-and-tickle is replaced by a blazing quasi-religious conviction which is not quite exaggerated enough to be funny.
The second strophe is identical to the first with the exception of the fact that the little trembling touches in the piano part, moments when it seems as if Chabrier is winking at his audience, are placed under less appropriate words than in the first verse. The third and final strophe changes tack – as is often the case in this composer’s songs. The piano writing shifts to the treble clef in both hands and becomes more ethereal; for a while we lose those striding basses and the keyboard is sprinkled instead with harp-like arpeggios – a shower of stardust from ‘l’astre vermeil’. This is music for the moment of death and it is gloriously, inappropriately charming. It is highly likely that the composer is mocking the unctuousness of the poem. We have the strongest suspicion that Silvestre really meant these verses, which only increases our admiration for the fact that a composer, like Fauré, generally avoided the worst effusions of this prolific and sometimes over-sentimental poet. The tone of the final lines (the ‘pomposo’ delivery has returned by this time) are steeped in portentous religiosity, an aspect of the Zeitgeist which scuppered some of the later Gounod songs but which Chabrier usually avoided. Here he is drawn into a philosophical world which is not his métier; the triumphalist postlude sounds like film music avant la lettre. Perhaps we would have needed to hear and see the composer perform this song to tell how much he believed in this claptrap, or how much he was laughing at it. In this music the dividing line between sincerity and send-up have become tantalisingly indistinct.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002
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