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Piano pieces.
Martyn Hill (tenor) Graham Johnson (N.B. not Johnston!) & Albert Ferber, (piano)
Meridian CDE 84417 [73.28]

At the moment when Graham Johnson's epic Hyperion Schubert Edition reaches its penultimate stage, this charming sequence of digitally remastered recordings, entitled The Birth of the Mélodie, sounds well more than 20 years on. It is welcome, notwithstanding the extraordinary spelling mistake on the cover, which betrays Meridian's poor control of detail in presentation and proof checking. Also, since the composers' dates range from 1818 (birth of Gounod) to 1926 (death of Emile Paladihe) it should have been axiomatic to give the dates of the songs and piano pieces chosen, if known.

There are no notes about the three artists (and one's first guess was that an upstart accompanist might be trading on a famous name) but study of the booklet quickly makes clear that this is another programme (like those of the Songmakers' Almanac concerts) which exemplifies Graham Johnson's imagination and his song-hunting instinct, which fuels indefatigable determination to quarry rare, forgotten mélodies from second-hand book stores and catalogues. Johnson is today's unchallenged heir to Gerald Moore, the Unashamed Accompanist of yore. He is equally revered as was his mentor and he is now the most famous of the trio of fine musicians recorded here; at least his name is not given in smaller print as was usual!

However, first things first! All the texts, with English translations, are given (in miniscule but legible print) together with a characteristic essay by Graham Johnson. Examples by Gounod avoid toppling 'into the sentimental and sanctimonious' and Franck 'remained dignified' whereas his imitators created 'highly popular kitsch'. Bizet's Ouvre ton coeur is a bolero from the composer of Carmen, but two Délibes songs are surprisingly powerful and dramatic, as is the young Saint-Saens in La cloche. Paladilhe's example is typical of high quality French salon song, and Dupont provides an alternative Mandoline to those of Debussy & Fauré. Best of all are two by Chabrier, greatest of the near-great and a particular favourite of mine.

Martyn Hill sings them all with taste and elegance and exemplary French, and the songs are separated by a few popular piano pieces, in which Albert Ferber shows how to make the piano sing and belie its percussive mechanism in Debussy's Clair de Lune & La fille aux cheveux de lin. An enjoyable simulated soirée.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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