SAINT-SAËNS Mélodies avec orchestre
Though issued by Alpha, this disc effectively complements Aparté’s recent survey of Saint-Saëns’s song collections with piano (3/17). Mélodies persanes, albeit abridged in its orchestral version, is common to both, as is the baritone Tassis Christoyannis, sharing the material, in this instance, with the tenor Yann Beuron. David Patrick Stearns’s comments in reviewing the Aparté disc, both on Saint-Saëns’s achievement as a song composer and on Christoyannis’s importance as an artist, hold true here, though the new CD also serves as a reminder of just how fine Beuron can be in this repertory.
Saint-Saëns orchestrated 23 of his songs, remaining fastidiously true, it would seem, to his dictum that the poem should be displayed in a musical context in the way a jeweller uses a setting to show off a precious stone. Nothing is allowed to get in the way of the words. Strings often support the vocal line alone, while woodwind, brass and harp supply splashes of colour that speak volumes. ‘Extase’, in which the voice hovers in suggestive rapture over slowly shifting chords and arpeggios, is a notably beautiful example.
Saint-Saëns also clearly associated voice types and ranges with particular moods and emotions: the tenor is an elegant, if at times witty dreamer; the baritone is more worldly, active, sexual and anguished. Beuron, who has a remarkable ability to sustain soft high notes without sliding into falsetto, is impeccably stylish throughout, whether turning towards mystic contemplation in ‘Angélus’ or fantasising excitedly about his lover in ‘L’enlèvement’. Christoyannis sings ‘Extase’ and Mélodies persanes with a velvety sensuality, and brings the blackest of humour to ‘Danse macabre’ (the song pre-dates the symphonic poem) and a fearsome intensity to ‘Les cloches de la mer’, the darkest, most disquieting of the songs included here, and one for which Saint-Saëns, strikingly, provided his own text. Conducting and playing are faultless. It’s a very fine disc indeed.