One of the finest I have heard
A most joy-inducing
A winning partnership
A Lohengrin to
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Michèle Losier (mezzo-soprano)
Olivier Godin (piano)
rec. Salle Françoys-Bernier, Domaine Forget, Saint-Irénée, Canada, November 2015
Sung texts enclosed ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD22720 [72:08]
All through my time as a reviewer for Musicweb – almost thirteen years in fact – I have had the good fortune to be sent a large number of discs with French mélodies. Generally speaking the artistic quality has been very high, and it is a special treat to hear the songs, as here, sung by a native French speaker (Michèle Losier is French-Canadian). She has chosen two dozen songs by some of her favourite composers and concentrated on fairly little heard works. None of the five are best known for their song compositions but all of them wrote a lot of vocal music: sacred works, operas, etc. Even César Franck wrote operas, but his two completed works are hardly played today. Some ten years ago I reviewed a CD with his complete songs – 20 in all – on Maguelone MAG111.139. It was recorded in 2002 and 2004 by baritone Patrick Delcour and soprano Catherine Dune with Jean Schils at the piano. I was not able to find the review on Musicweb but I have saved my manuscript and looking it up I found that my memory hadn’t deceived me. I found them uneven in quality, some were plainly dull, but a good handful were worth returning to and it is, by and large, that handful Michèle Losier has picked for the present disc. The Maguelone disc should still be available – it was reissued in 2015 – and there is some good singing from the baritone and some less distinguished from the soprano. Apart from Franck completists, general lovers of mélodies should be fully satisfied with the selection on the present disc and Michèle Losier sings them exquisitely: the beautiful Le marriage des roses, a setting of a likewise beautiful poem by Eugène David; Nocturne, which is Franck’s best known song; the light and charming S’il est un charmant gazon to a Victor Hugo text; the beautiful Pour moi sa main cueillait des roses, here titled Lied, but it is sung in French, and the grand La procession, also considered to be Franck at his very best.
Charles Gounod’s output of mélodies is better known, even though those presented here are rather seldom heard. His songs are always melodious, sometimes maybe too sugary, but this is easy to accept when they are sung so excellently as here. Le banc de pierre is quite expressive – a nice find! – Chanson de printemps with its perpetually flowing accompaniment, is one of his gems and the setting of Théophile Gautier’s Ma belle amie est morte is deeply touching. The poetry of the receiver of the first Nobel Prize for literature, Sully-Prudhomme, attracted several French composers and Gounod’s setting of Prière is another gem. Où voulez-vous aller?, another Gautier poem, is again attractively melodious.
Jules Massenet was an indefatigable producer of operas – more than 30 – and melodies – more than 200. In spite of Grove’s somewhat condescending opinion that his songs ‘though pleasing and impeccable in craftsmanship, are less inventive than those of Bizet and less distinctive than those of Duparc and Fauré’ I have always had a soft spot for them. The five presented here should have converted even Grove, had he been able to hear Michèle Losier singing them. Dors, ami is a lovely song, too seldom heard, and Crépuscule and Élégie are of course eternal favourites. The latter, a setting of Louis Gallet, is by the way often performed as a cello solo.
During his short life Georges Bizet also found time to write quite a few attractive songs – the four performed here are excellent examples of his genius in this genre. Three of them are settings of Hugo, while Absence is a Gautier text. Lovely songs, lovely singing. Hugo’s La coccinelle (The ladybug) is a charming and a little cheeky surprise.
That Camille Saint-Saëns was an avid composer of mélodies may come as a surprise. Once in a while one can hear one or two in recital or on records but he wrote around 140 and what little I have heard of them I’ve found them truly worthwhile. Chanson triste is a lyrical gem, as is Temps nouveau, which also is the title of the whole collection.
I have already several times expressed my admiration for Michèle Losier. Her rounded full mezzo-soprano is a pliant instrument that obeys her every wish and she is a very expressive interpreter with excellent diction. She is admirably supported by Olivier Godin’s flexible accompaniments. The recording is first class. My only little grumble is that the texts are printed in the booklet in the original French only. Listeners who are less than fluent in French will no doubt be at a disadvantage. Many of the poems are of course available online, but finding them can be quite time-consuming. Readers with ever so slight interest in French melodies are, even so, advised to invest in this disc for the marvellous singing and for a repertoire that is far from everyday fare.
Track Listing Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)
1. Ô ma belle rebelle [2:26]
2. Le Banc de pierre [4:24]
3. Chanson de printemps [3:02]
4. Ma belle amie est morte (Lamento) [2:59]
5. Prière [2:29]
6. Où voulez-vous aller [3:09] Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)
7. À la trépassée [3:16]
8. Un adieu [1:41]
9. Dors, amir [3:31]
10. Crépuscule [2:07]
11. Èlégie [1:54] César FRANCK (1822 – 1890)
12. Le Mariage des roses [2:24]
13. Nocturne [2:53]
14. S’il est un charmante gazon [1:37]
15. Lied [1:38]
16. La Procession [4:13] Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
17. Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe [4:32]
18. Après l’hiver [2:45]
19. Absence [4:26]
20. La coccinelle [4:26] Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
21. le vent dans la plaine [1:30]
22. Si vous m’avez rien à me dire [2:27]
23. L’attente [2:12]
24. Chanson triste [2:43]
25. Temps nouveau [1:53]