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EDITH PIAF: Tu es partout
Original 1935-1947 recordings

NAXOS Nostalgia 8.120553 [63í49"]



La vie en rose (1946, orch/Guy Luypaerts); La java de Cézique, Mon apéro (1935, with Jean & Jacques Médinger, accordions), Mon coeur est au coin díune rue (1937, orch/Wal-Berg), Fais-mois valser (1936, with Jean & Jacques Médinger, accordions), Entre St. Ouen at Clignancourt (1937, orch/Wal-Berg), Mon légionnaire (1937, orch/Emile Stern), Líaccordéoniste (1937, orch/Wal-Berg), Cíétait une histoire díamour (1942, with Yvon Jean-Claude and vocal trio, orch/Claude Normand), Cíest toi le plus fort (1937, orch/Jacques Météhen), Jíai dansé avec líamour, Cíest un monsieur très distingué (1941, orch/Météhen), Le brun et le blond, Tu es Partout (1943, orch/Paul Durand), De líautre côté de la rue (1944, orch/Luypaerts), Regarde-moi toujours comme ça (1944, orch/Luypaerts), Je míen fous pas mal, Un refrain courait dans la rue (1947, orch/Luypaerts)

The CD opens with "La vie en rose" (1946), then jumps back to 1935 and thereafter proceeds fairly chronologically. When reviewing ASVís highly recommendable collection "Enchanté, The Great French Stars 1927-1947" (CD AJA 5364) I compared their transfer of "La vie en rose" with those on two Piaf anthologies I had to hand. I concluded that the ASV was the best because one rival concentrated wholly on the sandblasting characteristics of the voice while the other went to the opposite extreme and gave such a sepia-coloured impression that there was very little presence at all. Whereas the ASV seemed to get it right, not underplaying the voiceís strident edge but equally giving us the sweetness which it also had and which accounted for its affecting melancholy. Well, I must say this Naxos transfer is better still; somehow they have managed to lessen the surface noise and bring forward the sound, losing nothing and giving the voice an added presence. The rest of the CD is of the same standard, so full marks to restorer/producer Peter Dempsey for his splendid work. (Interestingly, I see he transferred the ASV disc too).

If I donít single out any particular song it is because they are all so good. As each one started, with the sepia-tones of the clarinet, the saxophone, the trumpet or whatever, and then the voice entered, by turns bitter, mocking, melancholy or bittersweet, I found myself thinking "Now Iíll have to say something about this one", but the truth is that any one of them could stand as an anthem for a Paris which lives on in our collective imaginations.

Thanks to literature, thanks to painting, thanks to the cinema, the very name of Paris seems to conjure up visions of romantic young lovers by the Seine, of quaint streets after dark, of smoke-filled night-clubs. It is a myth which can even survive a visit to the city itself (to be fair, Paris has maintained its identity in the post-war world better than many European capitals). And for as long as the myth survives, the voice of Edith Piaf will be singing in the background. She appears to us now as the emblem of French cabaret but in truth she was unique (the ASV "Enchanté" collection makes this very clear) and no more a typical cabaret singer than Maria Callas was a typical opera singer.

Just as French cabaret conjures up a series of images, so does that of inter-war Berlin, less sentimental, more political, hard-hitting and caricatural, as befits the appalling situation the Third Reich was heading towards. There is another difference. Berlin cabaret, at least this is how it seems to us today, was based on composers, above all Weill but there were plenty more. Traditionally, light music isnít by composers. Tell a room full of people that they are going to hear a piece by Louiguy, or Monnot, or Kosma, and they will stare at you with blank faces. Announce "La vie en rose", "Milord" or "Autumn leaves" and they will know what you mean. But why is it that, if you play people a piece which is obviously by a classical composer, they will say afterwards "That was nice, who wrote it?", while after a popular song they will ask you the title?

To tell the truth, I wanted to be provocative and set out the details of the record above with composers first in red followed by their works. But there was a problem. The Naxos booklet tells me that "La vie en rose" is by "Edith Piaf-Louis Louiguy". Well, it says on the printed score that the words are by Piaf and the music by Louiguy, so can I presume that Naxos list first the writer, then the composer? Maybe. So if "Tu es partout" is by "Marguerite Monnot-Edith Piaf", does this mean Monnot wrote the words and Piaf wrote the music? I donít know, because ASV, like Naxos, attribute "La vie en rose" to "Piaf, Louiguy", but for them "Tu es partout" is by "Piaf, Monnot", suggesting that Piaf wrote the words and Monnot the music. Other anthologies get into the same muddle; I have one before me which says "Milord" is by "Moustaki/Monnot" (Moustaki wrote the words, thatís for sure), and that "Feuilles mortes" is by "Kosma/Prevert" (Kosma wrote the music, thatís equally sure). In a few cases a song was a genuine collaboration between two people (Dempseyís notes say that Monnot "co-wrote" various numbers with Piaf) but in the case of "La vie en rose", "Milord" and "Feuilles mortes" the printed scores are quite definite about who wrote which. The fascinating thing is that, in the world of light music, this doesnít seem to matter. Imagine getting a record of lieder and finding some were by "Goethe-Schubert" and others were by "Schubert-Goethe".

To get back to basics, is this a CD to buy? Well, 18 tracks of Edith Piaf in such excellent transfers are self-recommending but I shall have to point out that in its choice of repertoire the disc is in a way one for connoisseurs. If you havenít got any Piaf recordings, then you will find "La vie en rose" and "Tu es partout" of "Saving Private Ryan" fame (but is it really one of the best?). You will not find "Hymne à líamour", "Non, je ne regrette rien", "Padam Ö Padam" or "Milord", just to name a few titles with which the singer was particularly associated. These are all later than the cut-off date of 1947 so perhaps a second volume of later recordings is being prepared?

Christopher Howell


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