The performers found in the first volume are part of the second, with the same arrangement of selected songs from various parts of Fauré’s career, along with the complete cycle Le jardin clos, op 106 (1914). Just as Fauré drew inspiration from settings by bodies of water, as found in the chansons gather the first volume of this set, nature is another point of reference.
The highlight of this recording is Le jardin clos, a setting of ten poems by Charles Van Lerberghe, whose verse he also used in the cycle La chanson d’Éve. The expressive poetry of Can Lerberghe gave Fauré the opportunity to explore emotions within the “closed garden” of the title, and the shifting loci of this cycle are implied by the titles of the various songs that comprise it. The music itself reinforces the settings, as Fauré creates imagined spaces with these evocative texts. “Dans la nymphée” [“In the grotto”] is notable for its narrow melodic compass and limited harmonic idiom, elements that suggest the confined space of the title and the focus of the narrative in visualizing the beloved. A similarly selected vision is in the next song, “Dans la pénombre” [“In half-light”], which makes use of motoric rhythms to suggest the spinning wheel of Schubert’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” but in a more compressed way. These songs and the other ones in this cycle reflect a focus that exist in contrasts to the longer, sometimes soaring melodies found in Fauré’s earlier songs.
The “Sérenade toscane,” op. 3, no 2 [“Tuscan serenade”] from 1878 is an excellent example of an early song that stands in contrast to the more concise style that Fauré pursued later in his career. In this evocation of an Italian landscape, John Mark Ainsley delivers a particularly fine performance that soars across register breaks with a tone that remains fresh in some of the sustained passages that show his supple upper range. Some of the other songs from the early part of Fauré’s career are also part of this collection, especially some of the composer’s fine settings of Victor Hugo’s poetry. Given the poetic theme of this volume, they almost form a set within the recording. Yet just as it is possible apprehend the spectrum of Fauré’s vocal music in the first volume, this second recording reflects a similar range of styles and idioms that suggest the ingenuity the composer used in his remarkable songs.
All the performers deliver fine performances, and it is useful to hear a variety of voices perform this literature. Their experience with the repertoire is clear, and the nuanced approaches each of them takes is worth hearing. Geraldine McGreevy’s performances are a welcome part of this volume, and ringing tone provides just the right color for the songs assigned her. The tone of Felicity Lott’s “Claire de lune” [“Moonlight”], op. 46, no. 2 is appropriate to that song, a particularly effective setting of Verlaine that sounds, at times, like a conservative reaction to some of Debussy’s songs with texts by the same poet. That Verlaine can inspire such responses is testimony to the power of the verse and also the creativity of those two composers, along with the others who used his verse in their vocal music.
With this volume of “chosen landscapes,” the listener can enjoy yet another selection of Fauré’s songs, which also includes arrangements of some traditional French tunes, like the Christmas carol that he adapted in “Il est né, le divin enfant” [“His is born, the Holy Child”], which show the composer’s attention to the details of the accompaniment. Those accompaniments are handled magisterially by Graham Johnson, whose musicianship underlines all the songs in this comprehensive collection.
These are some of the finest works examples of the genre and they represent the mature French mélodie in the hands of a composer who knew both the voice and the piano quite well. This release is the first of four CDs that include all of Fauré’s songs for voice and piano within Hyperion’s series of French Song editions. Like those other collections from Hyperion, this volume of the Fauré set involves excellent performers who know the literature well.
By using a variety of singers, Hyperion creates the impression that performing Fauré’s music is not limited to selected personalities, but rather is music that a number of performers do well. Such a stance automatically makes the works more accessible to a wide audience. Unlike the limitations that might be perceived for a particular Wagner tenor or Verdi soprano, Fauré’s music lends itself to good musicianship, rather than a specific, unique voice type, and this is demonstrated clearly in the recording through the talents of several fine performers. The singers on this CD vary from those who have a depth of experience with the genre as a whole, like Felicity Lott, as well as other performers whose repertoire is more focused. Lott’s interpretation of Fauré’s Cinq melodies is masterful for its appropriate tone she gives the music and the text, as required by settings of Verlaine. Of the women involved with the recording, Jennifer Smith provides a fine reading of a late song, “C’est la pax” (Op. 1118), and the duet “Tarantelle” (Op. 10, no. 2) benefits from the crisp and well-matched voices of Geraldine McGreevy and Stella Doufexis, their only piece on the CD.
For those who know “Les berceaux” (op. 23, no. 1) and “Au cimetière” (op. 51, no. 2) from the frequent appearance of those songs on recital programs, the performances by Ainsley and Christopher Maltman are anything but routine. It is also refreshing to hear the impassioned “Chanson du pécheur” (op. 4, no. 1) which Fauré composed earlier in his life. The latter song is performed on this recording by Maltman, whose rich voice is particularly notable in this selection. Likewise, the “Barcarolle” (Op. 7, no. 3) contains elements Fauré would take up in some of his later songs, with its subtly crafted accompaniment, which Graham Johnson executes effectively. Again, the unorthodox arrangement of a CD release, with its recital-like focus on theme offers listeners the opportunity to explore this repertoire from a new perspective and, thus, to hear the music with fresh ears.
While Hyperion’s other vocal collections often present music in chronological order, the songs of Fauré are organized thematically. This first volume takes its title from the song Au bord de l’eau (“At the water’s edge”) and collects songs that deal with water or have aquatic settings. In addition to individual songs, this CD features several entire sets of mélodies, including Fauré’s Cinq melodies, op. 58, Mirage, op. 113, and L’horizon chimérique, op. 113, and the pieces selected for this recording are presented in chronological order, from early to later works. While the arrangement by theme may seem unorthodox, if not somewhat arbitrary, it is an effective concept for showing how an idea inspired the composer throughout his career. After all, other similar approaches have been used for years to present traditional German Lieder and other kinds of vocal music.
As to Hyperion’s efforts to preserve the complete songs of Fauré, the other volumes of this projected set include “Un paysage choisi” (vol. 2), “Chanson d’amour” (vol. 3), and “Les jardins de la nuit” (vol. 4). One hopes to find the singers included in the first CD on the rest of the set, so that the spirit and musicianship so evident in this volume may continue through all the music. For those who know Fauré’s works, this “edition intégrale” of his songs is a welcome event which makes his body of work accessible to a broad audience. Those less familiar with this repertoire may find this first volume to be a fine introduction to them.
James L. Zychowicz