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Gabriel Fauré: The Complete Songs 4—<em>Dans un parfum de roses</em>
16 May 2006

FAURÉ: The Complete Songs 4

Dans un parfum de roses (“Within the scent of roses”), is the fourth and final volume of the Complete Songs of Gabriel Fauré issued by Hyperion.

Gabriel Fauré: The Complete Songs 4—Dans un parfum de roses

Felicity Lott (Soprano), Jennifer Smith (Soprano), Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Tenor), Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano).

Hyperion A67336 [CD]

$18.99  Click to buy

This completes the remarkable set with a recording that matches the other volumes of the set in quality and attractiveness. Such laudable consistency may be fond at all levels, including the high level of performances, the meticulous program notes, and the careful planning that allowed for each recording to be arranged thematically.

Taking its title from one of the songs included in this volume, “Dans un parfum de roses blanches” (“Amid the scent of white roses”) the seventh piece in the cycle La chanson d’Éve, which is a late work of the composer. In La chanson d’Éve Fauré explores the primeval Garden of Eden by setting poetry that offers some sensual delights of Paradise – a Gallic “Earthly Paradise,” to evoke that image of the composer’s contemporary, William Morris – which is especially prominent in the first song in the cycle. As a late work, the music is sometimes more declamatory than Fauré’s earlier songs, with accompaniments that are sometimes sparse. Yet within those accompaniments are textures that suggest some evocative timbres, and Graham Johnson is sensitive to those aspects of the music. Jennifer Smith offers an exemplary reading of La chanson d’Éve, which contains some exquisite vocal pieces. This is apparent is the wonderfully sustained “Paradis,” one of Fauré’s longest songs, which benefits from the length he used to fine effect, as he indulges in details to portray a well-thought scene. .

Some of pieces are notable for other reasons, such as “Crépuscule,” the song with which Fauré began work on the cycle. In this song, Fauré attempts to evoke the atmosphere in Eden at night and, in doing so, hints at the fragile nature of primeval creation. This song is, in a sense, Fauré’s “Urlicht,” the song which Mahler used to establish in microcosm his vision of Resurrection in the final movement of the Second Symphony. With Fauré, such a parallel does not look to such a large-scale work as Mahler’s, but the less grandiose cycle is nonetheless poignant, especially in the interpretation found on this recording. Smith approaches this song with a fine sensibility to the nuances of the text in shaping the musical line, which benefits from the subtleties she brings to it and the rest of the cycle.

The elegiac aspect of the cycle should not be taken as something pejorative, since Fauré created in this work a sequence of songs in which he uses harmonic and rhythmic tension without resorting to the grand gestures. In “Prima verba” Fauré gives expression to Eve as she attempts to translate the majesty of the garden to mere words – albeit set to his wonderfully charged music. Likewise, “Roses ardentes” focus on the fiery roses that become a metaphor for various levels of interpretation. In these and the other songs that Fauré assembled in the cycle La chanson d’Éve the images of gardens to be portray a world that is at once lost to human existence and at the same time inescapable in the hopeful imagination of those who can apprehend the blending of poetry and sound .

While the cycle is, in toto, the greater part of the CD, the other songs included are also worthy of attention. In fact, some of pieces from early part of Fauré’s career are quite memorable. With its extroverted accompaniment, “Aubade,” (Opus 6, no. 1) shows a different approach to the textures of the chanson in Fauré’s hands. At the same time, the “Nocturne” (Op.s 43, no. 2) is memorable for its modal inflections that connote an exotic aspect. Beyond the color contributed by modality, the accompaniment contains some flourishes that add to the charm of this piece, which Stephen Varcoe delivers convincingly. His contributions to this CD are as consistently fine as his others in this set. Likewise, Dame Felicity Lott’s performances in this collection are equally fine. With “Les roses d’Ispahan” (Op. 30, no. 4) Lott offers a model of execution, with her clear diction contributing to the shape of the musical line. Here Graham Johnson supports the performance in giving the accompaniment a contour on which Lott can build her own phrases. “Le parfum impérissable” (Op. 76, no. 1) is similarly nuanced in delivering the images expressed in the poetry that attracted the composer.

In fact, all the performances resemble those of Lott in their mature and satisfyingly competent execution. With Fauré’s unique English-language song, “Mélisande’s Song” that sets a translation of Maeterlinck, for example, Geraldine McGreevy exhibits a clear expression of the text and also phrasing in a tongue not always celebrated for being singable. In fact, McGreevy does not need language to express emotion, since her performance of Fauré’s “Vocalise-étude” is quite effective in its purely musical expression that stands apart from the otherwise texted pieces in this collection. Elsewhere, the male singers, like Varcoe and Jean-Paul Fourécourt deliver similarly effective renderings of the repertoire recorded under the title of this CD, “Dans un parfum de roses.”

As the final installment of the four volumes that make up the Complete Songs of Gabriel Fauré, this CD has much to offer. Like each of the other recordings, it can stand alone through the guiding theme with which it was compiled. With the music divided among the various performers, the works benefits from the strengths each brings to the effort which is unified by the fine efforts of Graham Johnson’s exquisite pianism. The entire approach to Fauré’s songs taken in this release by Hyperion is well-thought and sensible, thus, making this multi-volume set a touchstone for future interpretations of this important repertoire. In addition to comprehensive listing of all of Fauré’s melodies found in the Hyperion set, the liner notes for this volume contain much information about the songs that will be of assist in rehearings of the fine performances on this CD. Those who are not yet familiar with the other volumes of the Complete Songs of Gabriel Fauré could start with this recording, since it not only completes this excellent set, but stands on its own as a fine compilation of the composer’s memorable chansons.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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