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Jules Émile Frédéric MASSENET (1842-1912)
Massenet Songs (1869-1912)
Sally Silver (soprano)
Richard Bonynge (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, England, 9-12 March 2012
GUILD GMCD 7393
[63:51]

Experience Classicsonline


Jules Émile Frédéric MASSENET (1842-1912)
Massenet Songs (1869-1912)
Ivre d'amour - Intoxicated with love (1906)
C'est l'amour - It's love (1908)
Ma petite mère a pleuré - My mother cried (1902)
Sérénade de Zanetto - Zanetto's Serenade (1869)
Il pleuvait - It was raining (1872)
Si tu l'oses! - If you dare! (1897)
Élégie – Elegy (1872)
Quelques chansons mauves - Some Mauve Songs: En même temps que ton amour - At the same time as your love
Quelques chansons mauves - Some Mauve Songs: Quand nous nous sommes vus pour la première fois - When we saw each other for the very first time
Quelques chansons mauves - Some Mauve Songs: Jamais un tel bonheur - Never has such happiness
Que l'heure est donc brève - How brief is the hour (Poème d'avril, No.6) (1866)
Ave Maria - Original Latin Prayer (Op. 24) (1886)
Guitare – Guitar (1886)
Première danse - First dance (1899)
La verdadera vida - Real life, music by J. Massenet and Marc Berthomieu (1933)
Amours bénis - Blessed love (1899)
Chanson andalouse - Andalusian Song (1891)
Avril est amoureux - April is in love (1900)
Enchantement! - Enchantment! (1890)
Quand on aime - When you're in love (1887)
Sonnet – Sonnet (1869)
Pensée de printemps - Spring thought (1893)
À deux pleurer - Weeping together (1897)
Chanson désespérée - Desperate song (1905)
Soir de rêve - An evening's dream (1912)
Avec toi! - With you! (1902)
Crépuscule -Twilight (Poème Pastoral, No.5) (1870-2)
Jamais plus! - Never again! (1912)

 
Jules Massenet is best known for his operas; Manon written in 1884, Werther in 1892, and Thaïs in 1894. All of these have continued into today’s operatic repertoire. In addition to his operas, Massenet composed nearly three hundred songs. These he enjoyed writing right up to the time of his death in 1912 - two of his final songs appear on this disc. While there have been a number of recordings of the Massenet operas including a Decca boxed set, little attention has been accorded to his songs. Consequently this disc, with the songs freshly interpreted, has been released to celebrate the Massenet centenary of 2012. Richard Bonynge and Guild have taken the initiative to record these 28 rarities, clearly selected to span Massenet’s output and allow us to assess his changing style. In addition to the songs, Massenet wrote a number of suites and cycles one of which is recorded here, the Quelques Chansons Mauves.
 
This material couldn’t be in better hands. We remember that Richard Bonynge was solely responsible for reviving Massenet's opera Esclarmonde (in San Franciso, 1974; New York, 1976; London, 1983), with his wife Dame Joan Sutherland in the title role. In 1998 Bonynge provided a disc of Massenet songs with Rosamund Illing (Melba 301080) and went on to narrate a DVD on Massenet’s life for Scott Murray in 2007 (Melba MR2000).
 
I was keen to observe how this disc helps one to glean something about the historical background to Massenet’s progress. There is good variety of style – some pieces having quickly-assimilated catchy rhythms, like Guitare, composed when Massenet was 30. Others have a more languid and sophisticated colour spectrum that shines with heaven-sent magnificence. The rippling filigree of falling rain in Il pleuvait (It was raining) despite the brevity of the piece, is lovingly played. The voice blends with the piano particularly gracefully. For me, one of the most charming songs is the Avril est amoureux (April is in love) where the balance between soloist and pianist is perfectly wedded to provide sonorous delights. The Élégie has an unmistakable resemblance to Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre which started as a song in 1872. Interestingly, the Saint-Saëns was written in the same year as this Massenet song: so I wonder which composer came up with the idea first. I’m beginning to think that Jerome Kern might have had a leaning towards some of Massenet’s melody lines for occasional similarities are there to be heard. The Cuban-styled Chanson andalouse seems to give more than a passing nod towards the habaneras written by Spanish composer Iradier. The Iradier pieces had been popular thirty years earlier.
 
Since her discovery by the BBC with Songs of Five Rivers, Sally Silver has grown in respect for her wide repertoire. Her excellent recitals at St. John’s Smith Square and Wigmore Hall in 2012 confirm this. She is well focused and has worked to gain the best from these songs under Bonynge’s sensitive direction. In a number of these pieces Silver soars effortlessly to provide sparkle and adds perfect breath control to sustain the closing long-held diminishing notes. I find her lightness of touch in the delicate Sérénade de Zanetto utterly delightful and Avec toi in particular is most uplifting. Clarity of diction is excellent and the unmistakable Parisienne colours are appropriate and a lovely touch.
 
The Potton Hall recording provides appealing light reverberation and is well balanced. The piano is ideally placed to capture bell-like cascades. The cello is never intrusive. However I wonder if the cello might have benefited from a wider acoustic. In Bonynge’s expert hands the piano achieves a wide range of styles.
 
The clear and succinctly written notes are provided by Peter Shore. These cover Massenet’s background, his output and career. Most of the booklet is devoted to the French lyrics with their English translations. I was keen to research the songs so that I could place them, chronologically. Quite a number of these Massenet songs were published in 1914, two years after the composer’s death. Perhaps he just enjoyed composing them as we enjoy listening to them and gave little thought about any urgent need for publication.
 

Raymond J Walker

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