The French Album - Mélodies Françaises
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
La bonne chanson, Op. 61 (1892/94) [21:14]
1. Une Sainte en son auréole
2. Puisque l'aube grandit
3. La lune blanche luit dans les bois
4. J'allais par des chemins perfides
5. J'ai presque peur, en vérité
6. Avant que tu ne t'en ailles
7. Donc, ce sera par un clair jour d'été
8. N'est-ce pas?
9. L'hiver a cessé
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Chansons madécasses (1925/26) [12:57]
10. Nahandove, ô belle Nahandove
11. Aoua! Aoua!
12. Il est doux de se coucher
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Le bal masqué (1932) [18:14]
13. Préambule et air de bravoure
14. Intermède
15. Malvina
16. Bagatelle
17. La dame aveugle
18. Finale
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
Wolfgang Sawallisch (piano)
Soloists of the Berliner Philharmoniker (Thomas Brandis (violin) Fauré, Poulenc; Peter Brem (violin) Fauré; Rainer Moog (viola); Wolfgang Boettcher (cello); Klaus Stoll (double bass); Karlheinz Zöller (flute); Karl Steins (oboe); Karl Leister (clarinet); Manfred Braun (bassoon); Konradin Groth (trumpet); Fredi Müller (percussion))
rec. 14 November 1975,Teldec Studios, Berlin, Germany
ACANTA RECORDS 233651 [53:08]

This Acanta release features the voice of Berlin-born baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau who died earlier this year. The programme is a real curiosity containing rarities from French composers Fauré, Ravel and Poulenc. Fischer-Dieskau is accompanied by Wolfgang Sawallisch the eminent conductor who is also a highly regarded pianist. The chamber ensemble comprises members of the Berliner Philharmoniker including violinist Thomas Brandis who was the orchestra’s concertmaster at the time of the recording.
We start with Fauré’s La bonne chanson, a song cycle of nine mélodies originally for voice and piano composed in 1892/94. The song cycle is based on poems from Paul Verlaine’s collection of the same name. In 1898 Fauré produced a version for voice, piano and string quartet, however, that performed here includes a double bass. It’s a fine vehicle for Fischer-Dieskau who clearly relishes the broad character of Fauré’s settings. Ravel’s Chansons madécasses (Songs of Madagascar) is a set of three for voice, flute, cello and piano written in 1925/26 to texts by Evariste Parny. It offers a compelling blend of sensuality, sorrow and acrimony and Fischer-Dieskau embraces all this with considerable success. Poulenc’s cantata Le bal masqué (The masked ball) for voice and chamber ensemble was composed in 1932 a setting of poetry by Max Jacob. The chamber ensemble employed here comprises oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano, violin, cello and percussion. Divided by two instrumental-only interludes these are vibrant, colourful and frequently quirky pieces. Featuring rhythmic and highly percussive writing this set is easily enjoyed with the brilliant instrumentation as prominent as the vocal part.
Fischer-Dieskau was one of the finest baritones of his generation. He really digs the meaning of the texts. I find his singing characterful with splendid enunciation; if a touch mannered at times. The chamber accompaniment is as flawless as one would expect from the pedigree of these players.
In truth this re-issue of French songs doesn’t have wide allure and will appeal mainly to Fischer-Dieskau devotees. The sound which is stated as being re-mastered is brightly lit, generally satisfying but occasionally uncomfortably fierce at the top. I have seen details of this recording when it was released in 1976 as a 33 1/3 rpm vinyl LP. Unlike the original recording this Acanta re-issue sadly has no texts and following a link in the booklet was a waste of time. There is more than enough space in the booklet to have accommodated the sung texts and translations.
Michael Cookson 

This disc of French songs will appeal mainly to Fischer-Dieskau devotees.

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