Mary Bevan: Voyages
Baudelaire’s ‘L’invitation au voyage’ and Goethe’s ‘Kennst du das Land’ are the starting points for Mary Bevan and Joseph Middleton’s ‘Voyages’, a beautiful, ambitious, if curiously programmed recital that explores, among other things, the power of the mind to take us on imaginary journeys that mirror both our deepest desires and the darker corners of our psyches. Both poems express a comparable yearning for a life beyond the here and now, though the decadent city to which Baudelaire transgressively wishes to take ‘my child, my sister’ is far removed from the prelapsarian world from which Goethe’s Mignon has been traumatically wrenched and to which she longs to return.
The immediate musical link is Duparc, whose settings effectively dictate the disc’s structure. His ‘L’invitation au voyage’ establishes the parameters at the outset, while ‘Romance de Mignon’ prefaces Schubert’s Mignon Lieder towards the centre, flanked by further Baudelaire settings, familiar or otherwise. Fauré’s ‘Chant d’automne’, dating from 1870, is a great song – brooding, fierce, harmonically complex – while ‘Hymne’, written the same year, is more conservative and cautious. Déodat de Séverac strikingly links Baudelaire to Schubert by modelling ‘Les hiboux’ on ‘Der Leiermann’ from Winterreise. Debussy and Maurice Rollinat, meanwhile, are at opposite poles in their approaches: Debussy’s Cinq Poèmes are all erotic turbulence and tristesse; cabaret composer Rollinat is knowingly urbane and quietly ironic. It’s never less than fascinating, but doesn’t quite hang together: the preponderance of Baudelaire over Goethe results in the Schubert feeling like a digression at the disc’s centre.
This is no reflection on the performances, however, which are often superb. Bevan’s purity of tone and discreet yet telling way with words can be by turns unnerving and alluring in the Baudelaire settings. Debussy’s Cinq Poèmes have real drama, as rapture turns to regret and pleasure itself becomes itself a torment. She generates tremendous intensity in ‘Chant d’automne’, and the exquisite way she floats the high-lying refrains of Rollinat’s ‘Le jet d’eau’ is simply breathtaking. She’s a fine Mignon, too, sensual in Duparc’s ‘Romance’ – he uses a translation from which Goethe’s darker imagery has been excised – more introverted in the Schubert, where the longed-for other world is perceived, at times, as being beyond the grave. Middleton, as one might expect, is marvellously insightful, playing throughout with weight as well as grace and subtlety. The disc might lack the unity that characterises the finest recitals but it’s all most beautifully done.