Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Aparte AP110
13 Jun 2016

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Tassis Christoyannis, baryton; Jeff Cohen, piano; Johannes Grosso, oboe hautbois

Aparte AP110 [2CDs]

$30.99  Click to buy

Music lovers in French-speaking lands might also mention Le roi d’Ys, a richly atmospheric opera that, despite being available on CD and DVD, is unknown to most music lovers (except for its overture and a delectable tenor aria: “Vainement, ma bien-aimée”). Musicologist Hugh Macdonald has recently published Lalo’s first opera, Fiesque, a work based on a play by Schiller and never performed in the composer’s lifetime. As interesting and as varied as Le roi d’Ys, Fiesque has received a recording (featuring Roberto Alagna) and has even been staged twice. Yet another Lalo opera, La Jacquerie (completed by Arthur Coquard after the composer’s death) was performed to much acclaim in the Auditorium of Radio-France; the work’s first recording, with the same performers, will be released in Fall 2016.

Here we have, on two CDs, the other major vocal genre in which Lalo was active: songs for voice and piano. The collection contains all thirty-two songs that Lalo approved for publication (though some ended up appearing posthumously). All but the earliest nine are now easily available from the music publisher Heugel, in a volume edited with scrupulous care by Joël-Marie Fauquet (1988). Fifteen can be consulted in facsimile in David Tunley’s essential Romantic French Song: 1830-1870 (Garland, 1995), vol. 3. Tunley’s volume includes six of the early nine songs, plus Lalo’s first published version of the Op. 17 songs. (Lalo later published a much-revised version.) Tunley’s volume also offers generally clear translations of song texts, plus suggestions to singers regarding French vowels.

For decades now, scholars have been telling the world about the wonders of the Lalo songs. Frits Noske, in his French Song from Berlioz to Duparc (Dover paperback), declared that the aforementioned Op. 17 songs—setting six poems by Victor Hugo—show Lalo to be “among the masters of the genre.” More generally, “Lalo’s songs are distinguished from those of his contemporaries principally by their profound sense of poetry…His pieces teem with ingenious harmonic and rhythmic inventions.” Lalo also “introduced humor and cheerfulness” into French art song.

These enthusiastic claims are well supported by the present recording, which gives evidence of a composer open to a wide range of influences—including Schubert, Schumann, and Gounod—yet always resulting in music that sounds confident and “right.” The big surprise is the first of the two CDs, which contains the nine early songs, published when Lalo was 25 and 26 years old. Six of them employ texts that the songwriter Pierre-Jean de Béranger originally wrote, decades earlier, to be sung to well-known tunes. In these Béranger texts, social observation and social criticism are conveyed with a mixture of sentimentality and biting irony. Lalo writes new music for the texts and sets them strophically—that is, with the same music used for each of the many strophes. (Often a song has six strophes, and one has seven!) As a result, some of these songs last ten minutes or more.

The remaining twenty-three songs (CD2) are based on poetic texts by a welcome array of poets: we encounter Gautier, Hugo, Lamartine, Musset, plus some lesser scribblers. Other composers—including Berlioz, Liszt, Bizet, Massenet, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Duparc, Anton Rubinstein, and César Cui—had set or would set some of the same texts. (Rachmaninoff would set one of the Hugo poems, but in Russian translation.) Lalo’s renderings turn out to be remarkably different from theirs, yet just as apt. In a number of cases Lalo keeps the setting relatively short, with the result that the music mirrors the poem instead of overwhelming it (as Liszt, for example, sometimes comes close to doing). “Puisqu’ici-bas” echoes the poem’s alternation of long and short lines, producing unusual, yet satisfying, three-bar phrases (2+1). Many of the songs have an essential strophic underpinning, but later strophes often modulate to related keys and develop the material, thereby echoing the text’s increasing emotional complexity.

Sometimes Lalo even convinces us, through his music, that a rather conventional poem is a masterpiece of psychological insight. A particularly touching example is “Tristesse,” by Armand Silvestre. Some strikingly regret-filled lines: “We passed—so it seems to me—close to each other without seeing each other, . . . without knowing that our hearts beat together. . . . We would no doubt have suffered, but at least we would have loved!” The prelude in the piano—a yearning melody over slowly descending chords and a low tonic pedal—casts a sweet-sad mood that colors everything that follows. As Graham Johnson keenly observes, the song “shows the composer at his most simple and eloquent.”

Lalo responds with special vividness to texts that invoke a distinctive locale: for example, “Le novice” (about a passionate young man who, having joined a monastery, is now chafing under its constraints), “La fenaison” (about village life at harvest-time), “La Zuecca” (recalling the pleasures of Venice), and “Adieu au désert” (sung by a dark-skinned tribal chieftain who lives by an oasis in Arabia or Northern Africa and here exhorts his horse-riding troops: “Let us make war against the Christians!”). Lalo’s setting of Gautier’s “L’esclave” (The Harem Slave) is fully the equal of fine songs written to similar texts by other composers. I am thinking, notably, of the young Berlioz’s “La captive” (with cello obbligato, text by Hugo) and Félicien David’s setting of Gautier’s “Tristesse de l’odalisque.” “Le chant breton” (on a pseudo-folk text evoking rural Brittany) includes an important oboe part that evokes a shepherd’s simple pipe. The musical “shepherd” is here quasi-enacted, with enchanting naiveté, by Johannes Grosso, first oboist at the Frankfurt Opera.

Lalo’s piano parts are demanding, richly interesting in themselves, and responsive to details in the text (e.g., someone knocking at a door). The accompaniment to “L’aube naît” is redolent of Schumann at his best (e.g., “Mondnacht”). “Puisqu’ici-bas,” if stripped of its vocal part, could almost pass for a Mendelssohn-like “Venetian Gondola Song.” Yet that vocal line is no mere declamation laid on top, but rather shapely and expressive, despite—or because of—its three-bar phrases. In “Guitare,” the piano evokes Spain through strumming figures, and the vocal part gestures toward folk song—if not Spain in particular—by its pure diatonicism, its limited range of an octave, and its simple, balanced phrases.

Baritone Tassis Christoyannis performs major roles in opera houses across Europe (including Germont at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden). Throughout this recording he once again proves himself a major interpreter of song. (I loved his recent CD of eighteen songs—most of which had never been recorded before—by the aforementioned Félicien David. The voice is firmly supported—except at times in the lowest register—and remains vividly “present” when the singer moves into an intimate half-voice. In the six Béranger songs, Christoyannis makes each of the many strophes specific and fresh. Throughout the collection, he sounds—by turns—playful, pompous, bitter, yearning, pitiable, and much else. He even ends a drinking song (Béranger’s “Les petits coups”) with an engaging chuckle that seems perfectly in character, not in any way forced. His remarkable vocal and expressive resources help him put across several songs (e.g., “Marine” and “À celle qui part”) that—in the manner of an operatic scene or soliloquy—include passages of rather free (but sung, not spoken) recitation.

One minor quibble: Christoyannis’s French pronunciation is occasionally non-native. The z sound in “mes amours” becomes an s, and certain vowels are too open: the word “ou” (meaning “or”) can become a somewhat puzzling “oh” and the word “vive” sounds as if it is, ungrammatically, “vivez.” Still, one always senses that Christoyannis understands what he is singing. His way of caressing a phrase such as “mystérieuse messagère” (i.e., “mysterious messenger”—in “À une fleur,” to a text by Musset) conveys the poet’s image in memorable fashion.

Jeff Cohen gives alert and appropriate support through all the different moods of these songs. He is wonderfully fleet-fingered in the multiple twitterings of “La chanson de l’alouette” (Song of the Lark). I particularly enjoyed, in the early song “Le novice,” Lalo’s evocation of a choir of monks singing. The composer, imaginatively, places this chordal passage first in the piano’s ethereal upper register, then gradually brings it into darker, more solemn regions, integrating it into the song’s onward flow. (Unfortunately, in some songs, Cohen’s instrument seems a little distant from the microphone. When I turn up the volume to catch the harmonies and figurations, the singer’s voice becomes uncomfortably loud.)

The poems make for fascinating reading. In certain cases, Lalo has selected and rearranged stanzas from a longer poem to make an effective song text. The poet’s version can often be found online at lieder.net, along with several different translated versions. A poet’s indentation of shorter lines can be interesting, since it may have affected how the composer “heard”—and therefore set—the poem. For four of the songs, truly admirable texts and translations—properly indented—can be found in Graham Johnson and Richard Stokes’s widely hailed A French Song Companion (Oxford, paperback).

In the CD booklet, the poetic texts are printed flush-left. The translations (by Mark Wiggins) are largely adequate, but the attempt to hew closely to the poet’s word choice and laconic syntax may confuse some readers. A powerful phrase in Béranger’s “Le vieux vagabond”—“Vieux vagabond, je ne vous maudis pas”—does not mean, as the booklet has it, “Old vagabond, I will not curse you,” as if the character in the song were addressing an impoverished homeless man. Rather, the character is himself the “vieux vagabond,” and his word “vous”—in this case—is a plural “you,” referring to rich people and tradesmen who did little to help the man learn a trade earlier in life. He is thus declaring, with a combination of bitterness and dignity: “[I may be nothing but] an old beggar/homeless person, [yet] I will not curse you [all].” As for Musset’s witty and tightly constructed “Ballade à la lune,” the translation in Johnson/Stokes, or the one by Barbara Miller at lieder.net, can help correct some errors in Wiggins’s rendering. For example, it is not the “history of [the moon’s] dashing loves” that “will ever be made more attractive.” The poet’s point is, rather, that the stories or legends about the moon make “you” (the moon) lovelier in our collective mind. Wiggins has overlooked the crucial “t’”—i.e., “you.”

Great songs can support a wide range of vocal styles and interpretive approaches. Interested listeners will want to compare Christoyannis’s performances to previous ones that are either still commercially available or—if not—can often be found in major academic and public libraries or have been uploaded to YouTube. “Guitare” has been recorded on CDs by singers thin-toned (Marie Devellereau), medium-weight (Felicity Lott, Konstantin Wolff), and plush (Susan Graham). Bruno Laplante—a French-Canadian baritone who studied with the eminent Pierre Bernac—performs ten Lalo songs (and eight by Bizet) on an LP from 1983, with sincerity and elegant French pronunciation but also with a constant quick flutter in the tone that I find distracting. On a Rodolphe CD from 1987, renowned Polish opera star Teresa Zylis-Gara, with magnificent vocal command, offers all but one of the twenty-three mature songs (omitting the first setting of “Amis, vive l’orgie,” from Op. 17), plus two Béranger settings from the early years. (She sings two strophes—rather than all six—in each of the Béranger songs.) She also includes “Humoresque,” a fascinating number that is actually an excerpt from the opera Fiesque. In certain songs, Zylis-Gara chooses slow tempos, apparently to allow her sizable voice to bloom, and she adds numerous well-judged portamenti. Her interpretation of the texts is often somewhat generalized (M/J 1996).

Lalo’s complete songs were recorded once before (on the Passavant label, 2010), sung by veteran baritone François Le Roux. To judge by two Hugo songs that can be streamed at the label’s website, Le Roux’s voice was—by the time he made these recordings—no longer firm enough to convey all his intended artistry. On the plus side, he handles the texts with ease, and Christian Ivaldi’s brilliant and stylish pianism is captured in full detail by the microphone. (Ivaldi was just as wonderful on the Zylis-Gara CD, made over twenty years earlier.)

In short, despite the existence of some admirable prior recordings, anyone wanting to discover a new side of Edouard Lalo—and a treasure trove of great French songs—would do best to start with Christoyannis and Cohen’s marvelous new 2-CD set.

Ralph P. Locke


Ralph P. Locke is Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. He wrote about French symphonies, including Lalo’s, in D. Kern Holoman, ed., The Nineteenth-Century Symphony (Schirmer Books, 1996). We thank the American Record Guide, where his review of the Lalo songs first appeared, for kindly permitting us to publish the present, expanded version.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):