Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Quatre Poèmes Hindous (1914)
Contrerimes - solo piano (1927)
Sept Haï-kaïs (1925)
String Quartet (1949)
Thérèse Malengreau (piano)
Lucienne Van Deyck (sop)
Gaggini Quartet
Instrumental Ensemble directed by Robert Groslot
rec Liège, April-December 1996
CYPRÈS CYP2621 [CD1 35.27 + CD2 55.16]

Delage? Yes, you might well know that name. No. He was never allotted a disc in the Pathé EMI 'L'Esprit Française' series. Instead, if you know him at all, you will probably know him from the Janet Baker French chanson recital coupling (on a 1967 L'Oiseau-Lyre LP) the Poèmes Hindous with Ravel's Chansons madécasses. Delage was greatly supported by Ravel. Ravel founded the Société Musicale Indépendante with a view to the performance of Delage's Conté par la mer.

Quatre Poèmes Hindous (1914) is scored for flute, 'grande flute', oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bass clarinet, harp and string quartet. It is an example of 'Ancien Régime' 'nostalgie'. This vein of exoticism runs blessed riot through French concert music of the period 1850-1950. The four movements take as their subject Indian places. Madras suggests some self-drugged Nirvana of the Sheikh Nefkzawi; Sorabji out of Ravel out of Florent Schmitt but predating all of them. Lahore takes Indian sounds and drifts them through the fragrant muslin of Roussel (Evocations), Delibes' Lakmé and Ravel's Shéhérazade song-cycle. The instrumental lines roll, flow and probe through Bénarès. In Jeypur the dreams float and meld in easy verdant dissonances. The cycle passes in a subtle dream.

The Poèmes Hindous have been recorded before. Janet Baker's version is on a Decca Grandi Voci disc but there also versions from Dawn Upshaw (Elektra-Nonesuch 7559-79262-2) and Felicity Lott on Aria Music 592300. I have heard neither of these last two but both are likely to be worth hearing. The Aria disc is particularly intriguing although I have never seen it. Aria include Chausson Chanson perpétuelle, Delage Deux fables de La Fontaine, Berceuse phoque, Trois poèmes désenchantés, Sept haï-kaïs and Trois chants de la jungle - Maktah, Maurice Jaubert Saisir, Trois sérénades, Elpénor, Cinq chants sahariens. The Kammerensemble de Paris are conducted by Armin Jordan. Van Deyck is in very fine and steady voice with clear diction.

Given that the first disc runs to only 36 minutes it is rather a pity that space could not have been found for the other songs featured on the Aria disc.

The much later Contrerimes for solo piano (1927) is in three sections. It abandons the East, adopting writing tart with the contemporary spirits of Berners and Satie from a jazzy gentle amble to an elusively splashy Iberian approach - a little like Chabrier's Espana through the wrong end of the bottle. The final 'partie' is a jagged mosaic - a rich dry parchment.

The Sept Haï-kaïs (1925) are for flute, oboe, clarinet, string quartet and piano. These are true Haïkaï spanning, in total, only 5.15 and being noticeably Japanese in feel. By comparison with the Poèmes Hindous (and perhaps as you would expect) the settings do not bask with quite such luxuriance in the lambent glow of the exotic.

The 1949 string quartet plays for 55.16. This is Delage accented by late Fauré. The music is distressed, melodious, ruminative but sentimentally softened as if by Kodaly and hardened as if by Koechlin. The rhapsodic scherzo has a skip in its step and the nostalgic andante has about it a hint of the Siegfried Idyll. The finale has a Delian sense of rhapsodic soliloquy rather than any trace of heroic struggle. The music is not hard work. Delage is a master web-weaver: finely poised and more often austerely in check than giving in to exultant loss of control. The four players include as first violin that top-line artist, Jenny Spanoghe.

This disc will be well liked by admirers of Ravel and Kodaly (I was reminded of the solo Cello Sonata) as well those happy few who know the string quartets of Bernard van Dieren (now there's a project for an enterprising company!)

As is standard for Cyprès discs the whole is tastefully designed with extensive and excellent notes. A real accolade for this peripheral figure. More please. Is there any orchestral Delage?

Rob Barnett

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