Felicity Lott s'amuse d'Offenbach à Poulenc
The two Maurices, Delage and Jaubert, were not at all alike, but their music contrasts and complements in this fascinating disc from Dame Felicity Lott, Armin Jordan and the Kammerensemble de Paris. Delage, self-taught, troubled and reclusive, created a series of works that Emile Vuillermoz described as being of “Japanese-like perfection”. Although Delage was championed by Ravel, who founded the Societe Musicale Independante to allow Delage’s early Conte par la mer to be performed, he was not much concerned with large orchestral works.
The Quatre poemes hindous, scored for voice, piccolo, flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bass clarinet, harp and string quartet, were composed in 1912 – more than a decade before Ravel’s Chansons madecasses, over which they surely had some influence. Thirty years ago Dame Janet Baker and the Melos Ensemble paired the two works on a famous disc on L’Oiseau-Lyre (4/67, now part of Decca’s Grandi Voci Baker disc). More recently Dawn Upshaw included the Quatre poemes hindous in a mixed recital (Nonesuch, 11/91). It is a fleeting, beautiful work. Felicity Lott sings it with a fine line, and beautiful floated tone for the wordless end to the second poem, “Lahore”.
If this seems slight, the other Delage items are even more refined. He was much influenced by Kipling, and one of his Jungle Book settings from 1934, “Maktah” (“The white seal”) makes one want to hear the rest. The seven
Delage lived to be 82 (he died in 1961), yet composed just a few pieces; Jaubert died at the front, aged 40 in 1940, but left behind a large body of work. Although he is mostly known as one of the most influential French film composers of the 1930s (Quai des brumes, Le jour se leve, Carnet de bal) he was also, as can be heard here, an enterprising composer of melodies. His Saisir is a sequence of five poems by Jules Supervielle, scored for piano and strings. It was Jaubert’s penultimate work, completed in the Sarre in February 1940. An “almost unreal serenity” hangs over the songs, as Renaud Machart says. Dame Felicity sings them fairly ‘straight’; they perhaps need a grittier, earthier voice – Jaubert’s chosen interpreters for his earlier compositions had been Ninon Vallin, to whom he dedicated the Trois serenades, Jane Bathori who created Elpenor, and Claire Croiza who gave the first public performance of some of the Chants sahariens in 1925.
The Trois serenades are the real ‘find’ of this whole recital. The first of them is “La traversee” by Apollinaire, a sort of distorted barcarolle, in which the poet talks of submarines in his soul. Then comes “Pour Virginia” by Francis Jammes, a sad lament for a dead girl, “Ta chair etait pareille a celle des cocos” (“Your flesh was like that of coconuts”), with a Ravel-like blues accompaniment on string trio and harp. Finally “Air” by Jules Superveille ends with an exquisite leap up to a pp high B.
The earliest of the Jaubert pieces is Chants sahariens, very close in mood to Ravel’s Chansons madecasses. Delage and Jaubert resemble Ravel somewhat, but they produced miniatures, moody stuff. Ravel aimed for, and reached, the stars. Chausson’s Chanson perpetuelle sounds unusually robust by comparison as the final item. This CD is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in French music of the 1930s.
Dame Felicity’s collection of lollipop-encores, with the faithful Graham Johnson at the keyboard, is a jolly affair, not to be taken in one gulp. Any one or two of these songs and arias might be – indeed often have – featured at the end of their recitals. It’s unfair, of course, to compare “Je regrette mon Pressigny” from Messager’s La petite fonctionnaire with the great Fanely Revoil (available on a two-disc EMI set), recorded over 60 years ago, but the difference is simply between the manner of the concert platform and the theatre. Vaudevillian timing and that playful teasing of the inner rhythms of words does not come easily to a Lieder singer. It’s a surprise then, to hear Dame Felicity on almost diseuse form, milk the last ounce from “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from Messager’s Passionement. Two extremely enterprising recitals, catering for very different tastes.'