The Gramophone Choice
Chanson (Nouvelle chanson sur un vieil air). Guitare. Rêverie. L’attente. Le chant de ceux qui s’en vont sur la mer. Le pas d’armes du Roi Jean. La coccinelle. A quoi bon entendre. Si vous n’avez rien à me dire. Dans ton coeur. Danse macabre. Mélodies persanes, Op 26 – La brise; Sabre en main; Au cimetière; Tournoiement. Marquise, vous souvenez-vous?. La cigale et la fourmi. Chanson à boire du vieux temps. Nocturne. Violons dans le soir*. Guitares et mandolines. Une flûte invisible**. Suzette et Suzon. Aimons-nous. Temps nouveau. Le vent dans la plaine. Grasselette et Maigrelette
François Le Roux bar *Krysia Osostowicz vn **Philippa Davies fl Graham Johnson pf
Hyperion CDA66856 (78‘ · DDD · T/t). Buy from Amazon
This is the most resounding blow yet to be struck for the mélodies of Saint-Saëns. François Le Roux, with his incisive diction and ability to characterise each song, is a real champion for the man, once so successful, who became, as Graham Johnson puts it in the booklet, ‘a footnote’ rather than a chapter in the history of French music.
Many of the poems that Saint-Saëns set were used by other composers, for instance ‘Dans ton coeur’, which became Duparc’s ‘Chanson triste’, by ‘Jean Lahor’ (Henri Cazalis). The first song of the Mélodies persanes, ‘La brise’, is full of eastern promise, the second, ‘Sabre en main’ a rollicking bit of toy-soldier galloping away, but just as you’re beginning to think that Johnson is shooting himself in the foot by being so ironic about the music they’re performing, along comes the hauntingly beautiful fifth song, ‘Au cimetière’, with its quietly rippling accompaniment and the languorous poem about the lovers sitting on a marble tomb and picking the flowers. Le Roux sings this with controlled, quiet intensity.
Johnson makes the point that it’s of little importance from which part of the composer’s life the songs come. He embodies that totally French 19th-century style, sometimes anticipating Hahn and Massenet, sometimes harking back to Boïeldieu. If a setting of La Fontaine’s fable about the cicada and the ant is pure salon charm, then the final ‘Grasselette et Maigrelette’ Ronsard chanson, composed when Saint-Saëns was 85 in 1920, is a vivacious café-concert-style evocation of old Paris.