CHAUSSON Poème de l'Amour et de la mer. Symphony Op 20
A work that tends to bring out the best in the singers who have tackled it, Poème de l’amour et de la mer has always fared well on disc. Distinguished exponents include Victoria de los Ángeles, Janet Baker, Montserrat Caballé and Susan Graham, among others, and Véronique Gens now adds her name to the list with a performance that ranks, unquestionably, among the finest to date. Superbly sung, and wonderfully well conducted and played by Alexandre Bloch and his Lille orchestra, this is an interpretation of great beauty and insight.
Gens’s dark tone and her ability to fuse sound with sense allow her both to encompass the work’s rapturous lyricism and to map out the psychological subtlety of its depiction of the painful end of an affair, viewed against the backdrop of the immutable cycles of nature. Every word of Maurice Buchor’s rather ornate text is given clarity and meaning without fracturing the vocal line. The oscillating emotions, as hope gives way first to anxiety, then to despair, are more searchingly conveyed here than in any other version I know, while the closing ‘Le temps des lilas’ brings with it both a deep, contained sadness and a disquieting air of irrevocable finality. Keenly alert both to the complexities of orchestral detail and to the inner propulsion of the score, Bloch is with her every step of the way. He carefully stresses the work’s pivotal nature, gazing back towards Wagner yet pre-empting La mer, and also reminds us of the often startling originality of its form, part dramatic monologue, part song-cycle, though in some respects it remains unclassifiable.
Its companion piece is the Symphony in B flat, much criticised for its overt debt to Wagner, particularly its slow movement, which is closely modelled on the Act 3 Tristan Prelude. The greater and more subtle influence here, however, derives from Franckian cyclic form, which dictates the meticulously crafted structure, and the musical argument is laid out with perfect clarity in Bloch’s performance without losing sight of the work’s direct intensity of emotional expression or the headiness of Chausson’s orchestration. The playing is rich, both in sound and detail, the brass warm and burnished, the woodwind elegant and refined, while the recording, like that of Poème, is both spacious and exactingly balanced. It’s an outstanding disc, and highly recommended.