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Recordings

Harmonia Mundi HMM902504
25 Nov 2019

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

Une Soireé Chez Berlioz

Stéphanie D'Oustrac (soprano), Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

Harmonia Mundi HMM902504 [CD]

$16.99  Click to buy

The booklet notes by Bruno Messina, the Berlioz scholar, read like poetry, evoking what an intimate evening with Berlioz himself might have been, in the company of those closest to him, making music for their own pleasure. “Ni festival, ni requiem, ni symphonie, ni opéra, mais une invitation à partager une soirée chez Berlioz et quelques impressions musicales, de celles qui ne font pas beaucoup de bruit mais qui s’inscrivent dans le cœur (comme ces inflexions “des voix chères qui se sont tués”) et qu’on porte longtemps avec soi…”. Though this soirée chez Berlioz is refined and lyrical, and can be enjoyed on its own terms, this recording includes many lesser known works, which enhance our appreciation of the breadth of Berlioz’s art, sensitively and beautifully performed. A must for true Berlioz aficionados.

Indeed, the instruments played here are not only period but unique. The guitar belonged to Berlioz himself, who used it regularly, and to Paganinni before him. The maker was Jean-Nicole Grobert, whom the composer knew well. Given its significance, Berlioz inscribed the guitar with his signature when he donated it to the Conservatoire de Musique. The piano was made by Ignace Pleyel and was used by Chopin and is beautifully preserved. More technical details in the notes.

The evening begins with Plaisir d’amour. It is heard here in the 1784 original for voice and piano by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini. Berlioz liked it so much that he made an arrangement for voice and small orchestra, with flutes, clarinets, horns and strings. As a child, Berlioz enjoyed the tales of the poem’s author, Jean-Pierre Florian. Around 1859, he made an arrangement for voice and small orchestra, but he would undoubtedly have heard and played the original for voice and piano. Williencourt’s technique makes this Pleyel grand from 1842 sound as agile and delicate as a fortepiano. Viens, aurore and Vous qui loin d’une amante are settings of other poems by Florian in troubador style. Roussel’s background in lute and early stringed instruments enhances his way with Berlioz’s period guitar. Viens, aurore is a setting by Lélu (1798–c1822) and Vous qui loin d’une amante a setting by François Devienne (1759–1803).

Berlioz’s La captive is best known in its orchestral version H60 from 1848, but is heard here in Berlioz’s adaptation for voice, piano and violincello (Bruno Philippe) made soon after the first version for voice and piano, from 1832. Seven songs for voice and guitar follow and three for solo guitar, interspersed with settings by Berlioz and Liszt. These are well worth including since this rare opportunity to hear Berlioz’s own guitar should not be missed. The timbre is distinctive, warmer and less strident than guitars made for different repertoire, particularly sympathetic to French style and to the elegance of D’Oustrac’s voice. These relatively unknown works also provide context for Liszt’s L’Idée fixe LW A16b an Andante amoroso “pour le piano d’après une mélodie de Hector Berlioz” making further connections between Berlioz and Liszt. Though Liszt generally preferred an Érard, this Pleyel is still closer to the instruments Berlioz knew so well, and appropriate for the the intimate feel of this “soirée chez Berlioz”.

Also included are Liszt’s transcriptions for piano (LW 205) of Berlioz’s “Danse de Sylphides” from The Damnation of Faust, and “Marche des Pèlerins” (LW A29) from Harold en Italie Berlioz’ Le Jeune Pâtre breton H 65C to a pastoral text by Auguste Brizeux (1803–1858) a poet and man of the theatre who popularized the language and heritage of Brittany. Hence, perhaps, Berlioz’s use of the cor naturel, (Lionel Renoux), evoking the sounds of Breton lovers calling to each other over mountains and valleys, “semble un soupir mêlé d’ennuis et de plaisir”. Berlioz’s Fleuve du Tage (H.5) for voice and guitar is very early Berlioz indeed, written at the age of 16. The Élégie en prose H.47 for voice and guitar sets a translation of a poem by Thomas Moore and comes from Berlioz’s Neuf mélodies irlandaises, op. 2, H. 38.

Anne Ozorio

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