Pierre Bernac

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Pierre Bernac

  • Sérénade
  • Soupir
  • (L')Invitation au voyage
  • (L')île heureuse
  • (7) Mélodies, No. 7, Le colibri (wds. Leconte de Lisle)
  • (4) Poèmes, Le jardin mouillé
  • (2) Mélodies, Coeur en péril
  • (5) Lieder und Gesänge, No. 2, Dein Angesicht (wds. Heine)
  • Dichterliebe
  • Freudvoll und leidvoll
  • Es muss ein Wunderbares sein
  • Ihr Auge (Nimm einen Strahl der Sonne)
  • (4) Poèmes de Léo Latil, La tourterelle
  • A mon fils
  • (La) Lyre et les Amours
  • (3) Songs, No. 1, Après un rêve (wds. anon, trans Bussine
  • (3) Songs, No. 3, Le secret (wds. Silvestre: 1880-81)
  • (4) Songs, No. 1, Aurore (wds. Silvestre)
  • (2) Songs, Prison (wds. P. Verlaine)
  • Mirages, Jardin nocturne
  • (3) Chansons de France
  • Fêtes galantes, Set 2, Colloque sentimental
  • (3) Ballades de François Villon
  • (3) Mélodies, La statue de bronze (Wds. Fargue)
  • (3) Mélodies, Le chapelier (Wds. Chalput)
  • Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
  • Chansons gaillardes, Invocation aux parques
  • Chansons gaillardes, La belle jeunesse
  • (3) Métamorphoses
  • (Le) Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée, 'Book of B, Le dromadaire
  • (Le) Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée, 'Book of B, La chèvre du Thibet
  • (Le) Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée, 'Book of B, La sauterelle
  • (Le) Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée, 'Book of B, Le dauphin
  • (Le) Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée, 'Book of B, L'écrevisse
  • Montparnasse
  • (2) Poèmes de Louis Aragon
  • Tel jour, telle nuit
  • Ce que je suis sans toi
  • Au printemps
  • (6) Mélodies, Venise (wds A Musset)
  • Prière
  • Chanson de printemps
  • (L') Absent
  • Viens! Les gazons sont verts!
  • Envoi de fleurs
  • Mignon
  • (Le) Travail du peintre
  • (L')Histoire de Babar, 'Babar the Elephant'

While they were both at the Salzburg Festival in 1934, Pierre Bernac wrote a three-line note to Francis Poulenc: ‘I have been asked to sing some Debussy in three days’ time. Would you agree to accompany me? Handsome fee, give me your reply quickly.’ Thus, on the spur of the moment, began a partnership in song that was to last for 25 years. Together Bernac and Poulenc built up a repertory, based on Poulenc’s own songs, but exploring the works of the great French songwriters and occasionally dipping into the Lied.
Bernac’s voice had such an individual beautiful sound, even though it was not especially full or sensuous. His palette of vocal colours was vast, within such a limited range of volume. He had in common with the greatest recitalists the ability to make every word seem new. Once you have heard Bernac, either in the ghostly drama of Debussy’s Colloque sentimental or the ephemeral charm of Chabrier’s L’ile heureuse, it’s very difficult to imagine it being done better. I don’t think he ever used a spoken effect, it is all sung, but his genius lay partly in the complete fusion of music and words that he achieved so that certain phrases have such verbal clarity that one hears them as if spoken in a play.
Most of the recordings on this set were previously available on three LPs issued in the 1980s by The Friends of Pierre Bernac (10/85), and once again they have contributed to this larger-scale survey. The BBC recital of songs by Gounod is particularly charming, and Bernac’s reading of L’histoire de Babar with the young Graham Johnson at the piano is one of the best versions. The title given to these CDs, ‘The Essential Pierre Bernac’ is a bit optimistic – anyone who knows Bernac’s and Poulenc’s recordings made for American Columbia in the early 1950s and for Vega-Ades later will be able to make a list of extra ‘essentials’.
Bernac recorded Dichterliebe with Robert Casadesus for CBS – a performance and recording greeted at the time with rapture by Poulenc. This earlier version with Gerald Moore seems not to have been issued, though Bernac was in excellent voice. Even as early as 1952 Poulenc was writing ‘we are entering the autumn of our association – we must at all costs avoid the winter.’ His last great song-cycle written for Bernac was Le travail du peintre, songs based on Paul Eluard’s evocation of the work of seven contemporary painters. The BBC recording here was made just after they performed it for the first time at the Edinburgh Festival in 1957. Bernac’s voice is nearer the microphone than in the later studio recording on Ades (8/90). There isn’t a lot to choose between the two; Bernac has lost nothing in his way with phrasing and words, even though there is more of a ‘loose’ sound about the voice, verging on a wobble. This third CD ends with an interview, recorded in 1977, with Graham Johnson asking the grand old man to talk about his career. It’s delightful: his English is wellnigh perfect, spoken with that mixture of courtesy and irony which seem to sum up his character.
Texts and translations are included but there is no note about the composers so those unfamiliar with the names of Louis Beydts (1895-1953) and Pierre Vellones (1889-1939) may like to know that the former, whose output included several operettas, was a pupil of Messager, and the latter, a painter as well as a composer, wrote a concerto for saxophone.PO’C

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