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Si j'ai aimé…
Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Le Concert de la Loge/Julien Chauvin (violin)
rec. 2018, Arsenal-Cité Musicale de Metz, France
French sung texts included with English translations
ALPHA CLASSICS 445 [59.25]

French soprano Sandrine Piau, known as a baroque specialist, first came to my attention with her splendid recital album of Handel - ‘Opera Seria’ comprising of arias from eleven operas with Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset recorded in 2004 on Naïve. Admirable, too, is her album of Mozart opera arias ‘Desperate Heroines’ with the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg under Ivor Bolton recorded in 2013 and also for Naïve.

In 2018, Piau’s first album for the Alpha label, ‘Chimère’ a varied song recital with pianist Susan Manoff, was a great success winning the Diapason d’Or of the year, Choc of the year and Gramophone Editor’s Choice. Now Piau has quickly followed up with a winning new album for the label comprising of fourteen mélodies with orchestral accompaniment and four short orchestral pieces that serve as interludes and meditations. The collection is entitled Si j'ai aimé… (If I have loved…) which comes from part of a line in one of the three Dubois mélodies. Ten of the composers are French-born, with the exception of a single work from Bavarian-born Martini, a Parisian by adoption, using Berlioz’s orchestration. The label is assisted in this collection by Palazzetto Bru Zane - Centre de musique romantique française. The genre of the mélodie, for so long neglected on the concert stage and on record, is experiencing a revival and one wonders just how many more mélodies are awaiting rediscovery.

A particular attraction of this collection is the way that the chosen composers are a combination of eminent names, headed by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns, and those lesser known such as Bordes, Dubois and Guilmant. Using the theme of love, these settings for a romantic heroine are divided under two headings: Souvenir (Memory) and Désir et Séduction (Desire and Seduction) with verse from some of the finest French writers including Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine and Théophile Gautier.

It is really hard to choose particular highlights from this collection, as the majority of the mélodies are new to me and I relish them all. In peak form, Piau sings consistently and impressively throughout. Standing out, is her remarkable sensitivity for the meaning of the text; her enunciation is impeccable, and her line is taut, revealing a satisfying array of colours. If pushed, I would choose the Saint-Saëns mélodies for special praise, notably the atmospheric Extase (Ecstasy), a Victor Hugo setting revealing Piau’s smooth and fluid projection. Striking, too, is Aimons-nous (Let us love) a Théodore de Banville setting with a lovely, almost imperceptible slide to her high register.

Piau is joined by period instrument ensemble Le Concert de la Loge directed from the violin by Julien Chauvin. Founded in the 1780s, the Concert de la Loge Olympique was a concert organisation noted for commissioning Haydn’s ‘Paris’ Symphonies No’s 82 to 87. The organisation didn’t last too long, ending in 1789. In 2015, violinist and director Julien Chauvin revived the orchestra under the name of Le Concert de la Loge and became the music director of this period-instrument ensemble who are thirty-one strong here. Le Concert de la Loge produce first-rate playing of impressive commitment that is detailed and given just the right degree of energy, which is extremely sympathetic to the soprano. Credit, too, for the beautiful playing of the orchestral pieces.

The recording was made in the Arsenal-Cité Musicale de Metz and the sound engineers excel, providing clarity, presence and excellent balance. The label is to be praised for providing French sung texts and including English translations. In the booklet, an essay ‘A Sentimental Education’ by Hélène Cao sets the scene well but I wanted additional information about the works.

Soprano Sandrine Piau excels in this album of mainly mélodies concerning different aspect of love, making this a valuable addition to the French Romantic discography.  

Michael Cookson

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
1. Extase [3.42]
2. Papillons [3.23]
Charles BORDES (1863-1909)
3. Promenade matinale [3.29]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
4. Au cimetière - Les Nuits dété, H 81 [5.17]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
5. Le Poète et le Fantôme [3.32]
Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
6. Chanson d’autrefois - Album pour mes petits amis, for orchestra, op, 14 [1.59]
Théodore DUBOIS (1837-1924)
7. Si j’ai parlé… Si j’ai aimé [2.48]
Désir & Séduction (Desire & Seduction)
8. Villanelle - Les nuits dété, H 81 [1.59]
Théodore DUBOIS
9. Promenade à l’étang - Musiques sur l’eau [3.13]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
10. Beaux Papillons blancs - Trois mélodies, op. 11 [1.31]
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
11. Aux étoiles, for orchestra [4.44]
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)
12. Ce que dit le silence [3.13]
Théodore DUBOIS
13. Sous le saule - Chansons de Marjolie [2.44]
14. Aimons-nous [3.39]
15. Valse très lente, for orchestra [3.38]
16. L’Enlèvement [1.53]
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)
17. Grave movement - Symphonie gothique, op. 23 [5.44]
Jean-Paul-Égide MARTINI (1741-1816)
18. Plaisir d’amour (orchestrated Berlioz) [2.48]

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