CD Reviews


Webmaster: Len Mullenger

[Jazz index][Purchase CDs][ Film MusicWeb][Classical MusicWeb][Gerard Hoffnung][MusicWeb Site Map]



Original recordings 1937-1948
Transfers and production by David Lennick and Graham Newton
NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120753 [54.59]



Crotchet Budget price

1) Je chante
2) En quittant une ville
3) Y a díla joie
4) Fleur bleue
5) Le grand café
6) La polka du roi
7) Biguine à bango
8) Ah dis, ah dis, ah bonjour
9) La vie qui va
10) Annie-Anna
11) Quand jíétais petit
12) Jardins du mois de mai
13) Le soleil et la lune
14) Mamízelle Clio
15) Verlaine
16) Terre
17) Tombé du ciel
18) Le retour des saisons
19) Marie, Marie
20) Coquelicot

A pleasant rather than handsome young man, Charles Trenet was born in Narbonne in South Western France in May 1913. From an early age he had a talent for words and music and from a very young child was in the habit of improvisation. When asked what he was singing he would say he didnít know. The divorce of his parents in 1922 saw Charles in Perpignan with his brother where his father was a lawyer. At fifteen, spurred on by the Catalan Poet Bausil, he published his first verses and edited and published the Sporting Chronicle "Le Coq Catalan", at the same time rubbing shoulders with many well known avant-garde figures. One of these was Fons Godail a painter and Cabaret designer. It was under his influence that Trenet exhibited in 1927 examples of his own work.

In 1928 he joined his mother and stepfather in Berlin and there aspired to become a film director, having no wish to become the architect as his father had wanted. In the event he devoted himself to writing his first novel. Then in 1930 he moved back to Paris where he was able to expand his many talents which included working as a graphic artist and frequenting the night spots of Montmartre and Montparnass where he was soon billed as a singing clown. He quickly rose to cabaret stardom while his associates in intellectual circles included many fellow writers of the time. It was during 1933 with his partner Johnny Hess that he went on to co-write many successes which included recordings for Pathe at the same time as making regular cabaret appearances. Then in 1936 they both were drafted into Military Service.

By the mid-thirties Trenet was inspired by the imported transatlantic idioms of Jazz and Swing. He was also the author of three novels and many verses, but he still went on writing songs. In 1937 he made his first solo commercial recording and success after success followed. In 1938 he wrote his greatest hit to date while in Military Service, "Ya díla joie". Two films followed but in 1943, with more limited success, he returned to the screen as co-writer with Jacques Prevert and spent the rest of WW2 in maintaining French morale with his songs, most significantly ĎDouce Franceí. He continued an active performing schedule in France until he retired in 1975. However, still wanting to be in the limelight, he embarked on a series of farewell tours. He was never wanting in energy and in 1992 and 1995 published a new collection of songs and during 1999 gave three concerts in Paris. He died in a hospital near Paris aged eighty-seven. The following day he was hailed by President Chirac as Ďa great artist, poet and national institution.

Surprisingly little is known of the personal life of this talented man topped with an energy that never left him. He achieved so much in his long life but are his achievements appreciated now as they were then? We will see as we listen to him singing some of the songs he wrote, and recorded in Paris.

The first recording is one of Trenetís signature songs, "Ja Change". A fluttering flute-led introduction is the first indication of a swiftly sung number and this feeling remains as Charles bursts into song with the flourish and abandon you expect from a man able to conjure up words and music out of nowhere without apparent effort. Itís a captivating song sung with a Ďdevil-may-careí attitude, but all the time you are aware of every word fitting every note in spite of the varying changes in the song. The need to understand the words isnít necessary as Trenetís voice is so adept at keeping with the music. What better to follow than "En quittant une ville". This is recorded with Trenetís own orchestra and is a much quieter song but like all his recordings his voice never falters and even non-French speakers can hear how very clear his diction is. The excellence of his solo players together with a fine pianist make this recording well worth listening to again and again. At the same time he recorded "Y a díla joie", and although he sings "out" a little more the Orchestra make sure they play in complete unison. Notice too the slight hint of laughter in Trenetís voice as it becomes more vibrant, but always his Orchestra follows faithfully his many changes of pitch when it appears he is running out of breath, but which is Trenetís way of expressing his feelings as he sings.

We hear Trenet in his next recording with Wal-Bergsís Orchestra. This is "Fleur bleue" and Trenet is in a "couldnít care less" mood. An exhilarating number much to be enjoyed. I was amused by the start of the next song, "Le grand café". Accompanied again by his own Orchestra Trenet starts by half speaking and half singing while the music plays softly in the background. Then you hear Trenet slowly burst into an angry tirade, his voice so pitched it leaves you in no doubt of his true feelings. The orchestra religiously follow until he slowly quietens and begins speaking again in time with the music showing that his anger is over. An unusual song. Next is "Le polka du roi". He is clearly teaching someone to dance, explaining by singing the movements. His voice rises and falls beautifully and sometimes I had the feeling he was dancing himself.

You will feel you are in the Caribbean when you listen next to "Biguine à bango". With Wal-Bergís Orchestra, Trenet makes the atmosphere really come to life. His control over his voice is superb. The orchestra accompany superbly and join in expertly playing the complex rhythm. In Trenetís next recording, "Ah dis, ah dis, ah bonjour" from the film "Je Chante". Imagine Trenet tripping gaily down a Paris street, his cane swinging, his hat at a saucy angle and winking his eye at every pretty girl he sees. Itís a pleasant song and one Trenet, with his natural flair for knowing how any song should be sung, sings with a lovely lilt. The next song is also from "Je Chante". Itís "La vie qui va" which is a straightforward, unremarkable song notable for how Trenet never deviates from the melody. I liked the next number "Annie-Anna" very much. Trenet sings very swiftly and in his quick-witted style never trips over any word even managing a really bouncy, South American rhythm. I liked the next recording, "Quand jíétais petit", very much too. The mixture of Trenetís singing and the brilliant accompaniment of Bernard Hildaís Orchestra, with a great solo violin throughout the whole piece, is superb. Trenetís voice tells you that he is in a light-hearted mood again as he appears to be walking somewhere and explaining all about everything he sees.

As I listened to "Jardins du mois de mai" I had the feeling that in spite of that lilt Trenet has when he sings, his voice had a poignant note. I wonder if the poignant note was due to the fact that just a month before WW2 had been declared. The next song is ĎLe soleil et la lune". To me this is a comic, up-tempo number, and the Gallic character of Trenet is obvious as he goes into one of his comic routines too. Itís clever and Trenet twists and weaves the words around perfectly. But this is not one for me. I also found it difficult to like the next song, "Mamízelle Clio", mainly because it was unlike any of Trenetís usual numbers. However, "Verlaine" I liked as soon as I heard Le Jazz de Paris play the introduction to this light, slow, romantic melody. When Trenet starts to sings his voice matches the orchestra perfectly. There are some fine instrumentalists here and I particularly liked the trombone and trumpet. This delightful song has an air of sophistication and the addition of the solos I thought gave it an American influence. Next with the same orchestra we have "Terre". This is Trenet in swing mood. "Tombé du ciel" follows and is a soothing, easy number, especially after the previous one. I thought it was also similar to Trenetís greatest hit, "La Mer". The war had been over two years by the time of this recording and a song such as this was one that could be enjoyed without any thought of what the morrow might bring.

It is evident Trenet is having a rendezvous with a girl in his next song "Le retour des saisons". He sings a semi-duet with a girl here, although her contribution is mainly a delighted giggle half way through. I wonder who she was. With the same orchestra Trenet sings a delightful little song "Marie Marie" in a very soft-voiced mode and with great tenderness. The sweetness is helped by a lovely contribution from the muted trumpet. The final song on the disc is from 1948 and is "Coquelicot". Although not a particularly outstanding number itís reminder of Charles Trenetís many versatile talents and rounds things off with a flourish.

It is this reason that I recommend the disc in which Naxos has once again produced an outstanding collection.

Joan Duggan

Return to Index