Martineau’s outstanding Fauré song cycle continues

Fauré: The Complete Songs Vol. 3

Malcolm Martineau (piano), Lorna Anderson, Louise Kemény, Isobel Buchanan, Janis Kelly (sopranos), Sarah Connolly, Ann Murray (mezzos), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), John Chest, William Dazeley (baritones).

This is the third installment of this well-regarded Fauré song cycle centred around the current go-to accompanist, Malcolm Martineau on Signum Classics. Once again a high quality group of soloists has been assembled (see above) and they each have been well-matched to the selected songs¹. All of the singers, with the exception of William Dazeley, have appeared previously in the cycle. As with earlier volumes the songs are arranged in a way that, for this listener at least, makes for a pleasing experience when playing the entire CD in track order. It is just like having a group of very talented friends round for a recital in one’s own listening room!

Listening to this CD, as with the earlier volumes, it is easy to appreciate why Malcolm Martineau is in such great demand from a wide range of singers. He responds sensitively to his singers and to the requirements of the music in a subtle but convincing fashion. He never seeks the limelight, in a manner that so annoyed Fauré, but his pianism adds so much to these wonderful performances.

Once again we get a mix of relatively popular songs, such as Clair de Lune, Op. 46 No. 2 performed admirably by Ann Murray, and some of Fauré’s rarely recorded Vocalises; Nos. 13 & 24, sung by Lorna Anderson. Lorna Anderson contributes a further three songs to this album including an outstanding Le parfum impérissable which I seem to recall Sarah Walker singing with Malcolm Martineau on a CD with a most unfortunate cover!

The recital gets off to an outstanding start with Iestyn Davies, who currently seems to be at the peak of his powers, combining seamlessly with Malcolm Martineau in the short, Ici-bas ! Op. 8 No. 3 to create a tone and feeling of regret totally in keeping with the work.

We get two autumnal songs from the soprano Isobel Buchanan, Automne, Op. 18 No. 3 and Chant d’automne Op. 5 No. 1. I particularly enjoyed Sarah Connolly’s moving account of Vocalise-étude and the short Chanson, Op. 94 was an effective contrast.  John Chest’s sole contribution to this volume is Tristesse d’Olympio, a substantial song based on Victor Hugo’s poem, and he conveys the mood of the piece very effectively.

The CD concludes with Mirages, Op. 113; a song cycle based on four of the poems from a collection of the same name by Renée de Brimont. The songs are beautifully sung by the Warwickshire born, baritone William Dazeley who captures the very essence of the black swan swimming towards the fleeing unknown and then confronting the azure depths of time gone by with ripples being reflected by Martineau. In the tranquil stillness of the Jardin nocturne, earthly delights – “Your scents of iris, jasmine and roses, your somber charms of desire and boredom” are met for the last time. The final song calls up, from a distance, the lure of an erotic dance that ends as “wetness shines, a vain kiss, along your smooth thighs, vain dancer!” Thus ends a well conceived ‘recital’ that essentially begins with early works ands with one of the song cycles that Fauré favoured in his later years.

The songs have been excellently recorded so as to capture the tone of the piano and voices perfectly and there is an appropriate balance between the soloist and singer. The CD comes with an excellent booklet that is likely to add greatly to one’s listening pleasure. It contains background notes by Roger Nichols, full texts of all of the songs, with English translations, and short biographies of the performers.

For lovers of French song, or those relatively unfamiliar with this genre, this series is rapidly becoming an indispensable addition to one’s music collection. I await Vol. 4 with eager anticipation!

iClassical rating: 

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¹ Please note that it is not Ann Murray, but Thomas Oliemans, singing on track 8!