Fiançailles pour rire – Mélodies Françaises
Natalie Dessay (soprano)
Philippe Cassard (piano)
Laurent Naouri (baritone) (14), Quatuor Ebène (18)
rec. Salle Colonne, Paris, 16–21 June 2014
Sung texts with English and German translations enclosed
ERATO 2564 611440 [62:13]

Fiançailles pour rire (Engagement for fun) is the title of Poulenc’s song-cycle from 1940 to texts by Louise de Vilmorin. This, in a way, represents a summing-up of a glorious period of French melodies from around 1870 to the outbreak of World War 2. Gabriel Fauré’s position as one of the great song composers, irrespective of nationality, and worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf and Richard Strauss is, I believe, undisputed, but he is just the top of the iceberg, as this attractive disc also proves. The six Fauré songs that open this programme are brilliant examples of his art when he is at his very best, forging texts and music together seamlessly in a way that few composers have managed. Natalie Dessay, who has been one of the most luminous sopranos of the last twenty years or so, has always been masterly in drawing the utmost of meaning out of whatever she sings. Although it is mostly in operatic repertoire I have heard her and admired her, she is just as apt to express the same understanding from mélodies. A couple of years ago she retired from the operatic stage and there can be no doubt that the strains of the mainly high-lying tessitura of her roles has taken its toll. Her vibrato has widened considerably at forte and above and, depending how sensitive one is, that may be a hindrance to enjoyment of her readings of these songs. If you listen through these shortcomings you will find a mature artist that is a master of communication. Après un rêve at once makes you sit up and feel that here is a singer who has something to say, over and above the factual meaning of the words. She peers deeply under the surface, as true song interpreters do.

Emmanuel Chabrier is primarily known as the creator of some colourful orchestral works. In fact, as I have noted before, he has a rich melodic gift, which is apparent in Chanson pour Jeanne. His total output of songs is fairly small but one day I hope some adventurous company will issue a collection of his best efforts.

Anyone familiar with Poulenc’s songs will feel completely at home in the rarely heard cycle Fiançailles pour rire. Slightly ironic but with an undercurrent of seriousness, he is priceless and very personal in his address. In the duet Colloque Natalie Dessay is partnered by her husband, bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, who is superb. The little known Trois poèmes de Louise Vilmorin are also excellent acquaintances.

Ernest Chausson died in a bicycle accident age 44 when he was just on the verge of being established as a composer. His oeuvre is rather small but there are several masterpieces, including the famous Poème for violin and orchestra and his symphony in B-flat – and the atmospheric song-cycle Poème de l'amour et de la mer, dedicated incidentally to his colleague Henri Duparc. Chanson perpétuelle, written the year before he died, is another masterwork. Accompanied by piano and string quartet it is no doubt perfumed, but it is a noble perfume and it is very expressive. Le Colibri and Le Temps des lilas are both more straightforward and very beautiful.

His friend Duparc was very self-critical and left behind only seventeen songs, but they are gems – sparse and concentrated. Natalie Dessay sings the three songs chosen with the utmost care and love, rounding off this highly desirable disc admirably.

The charming photograph on the cover is only one of several highly entertaining illustrations.

Lovers of French mélodies should place their order at once.

Göran Forsling
Track listing
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 – 1924)
1. Après un rêve [2:25]
2. En sourdine [2:56]
3. Mandoline [1:54]
4. Clair de lune [2:46]
5. Prison [2:04]
6. Spleen [1:56]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841 – 1894)
7. Chanson pour Jeanne [3:53]
Francis POULENC (1899 – 1963)
Fiançailles pour rire
8. La Dame d’André [1:21]
9. Dans l’erbre [1:41]
10. Il vole [1:50]
11. Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant [2:41]
12. Violon [1:40]
13. Fleurs [2:05]
14. Colloque [2:38]
Trois Poèmes de Louise de Vilmorin
15. Le Garçon de Liège [1:20]
16. Au-delà [1:18]
17. Aux officiers de la garde blanche [2:43]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855 – 1899)
18. Chanson perpétuelle [6:30]
19. Le Colibri [3:06]
20. Le Temps des lilas [3:35]
Henri DUPARC (1848 – 1933)
21. Au pays où se fait la guerre [4:46]
22. Soupir [2:53]
23. Extase [3:00]

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