Soprano Katherine Broderick joins instrumentalists include pianist James Baillieu, flautist Adam Walker, cellist Tim Lowe and the Heath Quartet in a new recording of French Chamber Songs.
Drawn from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the repertoire draws together works by some of the finest French composers of the era, featuring pieces by Gaubert, Berlioz, Ravel, Caplet, Debussy, Saint-Saëns and Chausson.
Broderick introduces the collection with her own thoughts on the connection between singer and pianist, and the joys of including more players in this collaboration : “There is an indefinable communication between a singer and pianist in the medium of song. It is quite intimate and, I like to imagine, something akin to telepathy. It is a really exciting experience to add more players into the mix. I always relish the chance to sing with chamber musicians. It’s the closest I’ll come to knowing the interdependency of the dynamics between players in a string quartet.”
As an ENO Harwood Artist, Katherine Broderick has a flourishing career in opera, concert and recital, and was the winner of the 2007 Kathleen Ferrier Award. In demand at opera houses in the UK and Europe, her stage repertoire encompasses Wagner, Verdi, Mozart and Britten.
This recording follows her 2012 Champs Hill release of Lieder for the Turn of a Century (CHRCD046) with Malcolm Martineau, described as “...beautifully shaped and superbly sung...” by BBC Radio 3 and by Gramophone as “... a judicious mix of not-too-brash bravado and playful sensuality makes this performance just the ticket.”
- Sleeve Notes
Ernest Chausson published 35 mélodies for voice and piano, 2 for voice and orchestra, and Chanson perpétuelle, which was originally written for voice and orchestra, but is better known in the version for voice, piano and string quartet, which we hear on this CD. Composed just before his death in December 1898, ‘Chanson perpétuelle’ sets a poem by Charles Cros about the desperate plight of a woman whose lover has deserted her. The poem is set to continuous music, and the woman’s aching sadness is mirrored in the ebb and flow of the accompaniment: we hear the voice start in the minor, climb a fifth, then fall to the tonic again; and this pattern is repeated throughout the song, thus implying the perpetual recurrence of the title. Of the 16 tercets, Chausson set only 12, omitting four of Cros’s stanzas for obvious reasons: the sixth for its lubricious innuendo, the tenth for its incongruity, and the final two for their similarity to ‘Les papillons’. He presumably changed Cros’s original title (‘Nocturne’), because he had already composed a ‘Nocturne’, as the first song of his Opus 8, to a poem by Bouchor. The voice is placed above the accompaniment and declaims rather than sings the text. Significantly for such numbed feeling, the vocal line is devoid of luxuriating melismas. It was his final song.
Camille Saint-Saëns composed some 150 songs to English, Italian, German, Spanish and, of course, French texts. His mélodies lack the depth of his pupil Fauré’s, but there is a clarity and energy about them that have ensured their survival in the repertoire; and a few, such as ‘Le pas d’armes de Roi Jean’, L’attente’, ‘La cloche’, ‘Tournoiement’ and ‘Danse macabre’ can stand comparison with the very best. Violons dans le soir dates from 1907. It is one of several songs with instrumental obbligato – here the violin which, despite an element of bravura, enters into dialogue with both the piano and voice, and illustrates the mood of Comtesse Anna de Noailles’s poem.
Frank Martin’s Trois Chants de Noël, for soprano, flute and piano, date from1947. The texts are by the Geneva poet Albert Rudhardt, and Martin gave the songs as a Christmas present to his fifteen year-old daughter who had a pretty soprano voice. They were only published in 1962 – in French, German and English – although they were regularly performed in the family circle and throughout Germany by the composer, Ellen Bosenius (a soprano from Cologne) and his wife, the flautist Maria Martin.
Victor Hugo was a poet much prized by Saint-Saëns, who set the text of ‘Viens! – Une flûte invisible’ twice, first with the title ‘Viens!’ for two sopranos (1855), and then thirty years later as a solo song, Une flûte invisible, for flute, voice and piano, which we hear on this CD – a delicious pastorale with a delightfully catchy and simple vocal line. Hugo’s famous poem celebrates his love for Juliette Drouet. During September 1834 and September and October 1835, she was installed in Metz, a hamlet in the Bièvre valley, while Hugo and his family lived at Les Roches. The lovers were separated by the landscape described in the poem. The setting of the same poem by André Caplet dates from 1900, the year before Caplet won the coveted Prix de Rome with his Cantata Myrrha, defeating Ravel in the process. Caplet called his song Viens! – Une flûte invisible and scored it for flute, voice and piano – a wonderful setting in which the flute arabesques owe a debt to Debussy’s ‘Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune’. The piano accompaniment is almost orchestral in feel.
Ravel’s Chansons madécasses were commissioned by Mrs Elizabeth Coolidge, the American patron of the arts, in 1925. Ravel had already bought a set of the complete works of Evariste Parny, the eighteenth century poet born on the Île de la Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The poet’s talent for exotic description, which was later to inspire Leconte de Lisle, attracted Ravel, who immediately set about composing the Chansons madécasses. He chose three of the twelve prose poems (nos, 12, 5 and 8) which Parny claimed were translations from original Madagascan verse that would give his readers an idea of Madagascan life and customs. Although the poet attempted to substantiate the claim, by stating in the Introduction that ‘Ils n’ont point de vers; leur poésie n’est qu’une prose soigné: leur musique est simple, douce et toujours mélancholique’, these prose-poems were in fact the product of his own poetic imagination. Parny, who neither set foot in Madagascar nor knew the Madagascan language, wrote the Chansons madécasses in India during 1784-85.
Ravel set his three poems to an accompaniment of ‘if possible’ flute, cello and piano. Thirteen years had passed since his Mallarmé songs, whose lushness and harmonic excesses were now pared down to leaner textures. The three instruments surround the voice which becomes, in effect, the fourth instrument of the quartet. Ravel later admitted his debt to Schoenberg, and in a biographical sketch (dictated in 1928 to Roland-Manuel and printed in a special Ravel number of ‘La revue musicale’ of 1938), saw in the work ‘[...] a new dramatic element – the erotic voice, which was introduced by the very subject of Parny’s poems. The work is a sort of quartet with the voice in the role of principal instrument. Simplicity is the keynote.’ The composer’s own approach to the music can be heard in his 1932 recording with Madeleine Grey (EMI: SH 196); despite the exoticism of the verse, there is no sentimentality in his reading, no lingering on erotic detail. The tempi are fast, especially in the second song, where the elaboration of atrocities meted out by whites to the native Madagascans, is conveyed by a voice that grows increasingly hysterical, before it pants slowly to a close on ‘Ils ne sont plus, et nous vivons, et nous vivons libres’. The threatening cry of ‘aoua’ – a stroke of dramatic genius - was added by Ravel himself, as his own copy of Parny’s poems in the Bibliothèque Nationale reveals. Ravel considered his cycle to be among his most important vocal works, and was particularly proud of the way a maximum of expression was achieved by such economy of means.
La Captive comes from Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales, an early collection of poems published in 1829 that convey the poet’s conception of the East, full of colour, heat, bold imagery, languor and cruelty. ‘Have you read Hugo’s Orientales? They are full of superb things’ wrote Berlioz to a friend in 1829. Perhaps the most celebrated settings from this pioneering recueil are Bizet’s ‘Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe’ and Saint-Saëns’s ‘L’attente’, but ‘La Captive’ by Berlioz runs them close. It has an interesting compositional history. It was first composed for piano and voice in Subiaco, outside Rome, in 1832, but in December of the same year Berlioz added a discreet part for solo cello, before orchestrating the song in 1834. In 1848 he set about revising the score, changing the key and adding an extra verse that had been omitted in the earlier versions.
Ravel’s Histoires naturelles, settings of animal poems by Jules Renard, were premiered at a concert presented by the Société Nationale on 12 January 1907, with Ravel himself accompanying Jane Bathori. Despite the tradition of animal music in French music – works by Janequin, Couperin, Rameau, Chabrier and Saint-Saëns spring to mind – the evening was a fiasco. The reason is clear: by attempting to shape the vocal line to render as closely as possible the natural inflections and rhythms of Renard’s prose-poetry, Ravel ignored the custom of setting the mute ‘e’ as a bona fide syllable. This break with tradition caused certain sections of the audience to whistle and jeer from early in the performance, but the artists persevered to the end and actually encored the final song of the set, ‘La pintade’. Debussy confided to Louis Laloy that Ravel had ‘acted like a conjuror, a fakir, a snake-charmer, who can make flowers grow around a chair’, and Fauré confessed that he was shocked that ‘such things should be set to music.’ Present at that performance was the composer Charles Koechlin, who wrote in the December 1938 issue of the La Revue musicale:
In the venerable society founded by Saint-Saëns and Romain Bussine, it was the spirit of the Schola which prevailed. It unleashed itself vehemently that evening, in a stormy revolt against Ravellian conciseness. From the start, one part of the audience was hostile. It behaved in execrable taste, judging the work to be ‘devoid of music’; the silent bars of Le grillon, above all, called forth jeers. And when, at the opening bars of the mysterious and marvellous Martin-pêcheur, Jane Bathori sang the phrase ‘Ça n’a pas mordu, ce soir’ – with what low and coarse laughter was it received! The Ravellians, and even the more ‘neutral’ listeners, were exasperated by this unqualified attitude [...]
The songs, in which the accompaniment plays the dominant and most pictorial role, are a delight. In Le paon, the vain peacock opens his tail to a contrary motion glissando on the black keys; the sound of the cricket in Le grillon is suggested by a rhythmic repetition of G sharp; Le cygne presents the swan gliding on Debussy-like ripples; in Le martin-pêcheur, we hear sliding sevenths alighting on a sustained chord in imitation of the dazzling kingfisher settling on the fishing rod; and the guinea-fowl of La pintade hammers out her strident cries to a succession of repeated notes.
Debussy’s Proses lyriques were published in 1895, and represent a new departure in his mélodies. Following, perhaps, the example of Mussorgsky, Wagner and Cornelius, whose works he knew, and who wrote their own texts to many of their vocal works, he penned four poems in the Symbolist mode that explored sadness, boredom and nostalgia, and the harmful role of memory. Debussy showed the four poems to the poet Henri de Régnier, who recommended two of them [De rêve and De grève] for publication in his friend Viélé-Griffin’s review Entretiens politiques et litéraires. Although they are over-written, and poetically a disappointment after the Baudelaire and Verlaine songs that immediately preceded them, they inspired some of Debussy’s finest vocal music – almost as a preparation for Pelléas et Mélisande, the first version of which was finished the same year. The title of De fleurs (dedicated to Mme Chausson) conflates the imagery of Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal and Maeterlinck’s Serres chaudes. The Baudelairean theme of ennui is associated here with the sultry atmosphere of a greenhouse, where the poet’s soul is dissolving, suffocated by the evil flowers. The sun that breeds the heavy scents overpowers the poet’s dreams and smothers his creativity. The inescapability of the poet’s predicament is reinforced by the oppressive atmosphere of the greenhouse. The sun, usually revered as a source of light, here consumes the poet’s soul. The tonal harmonies of the major and minor chords and the slow tempo of the beginning express the poem’s prevalent mood of boredom. As the poet becomes more frustrated, the song becomes dramatic, requiring a robust soprano voice. But it dies away, as the minor and major triads reappear to suggest the soul’s reluctant acceptance of ennui.
- Press Reviews
"[Katherine Broderick's] powers of expression, so vivid and telling on stage, communicate well in this rewarding recital disc" ... "Broderick turns every song into a miniature drama, delivered with elegance of line, sensuality and sharp wit, well supported by her excellent colleagues".
- Fiona Maddocks, The Observer
"...some rapturous high pianissimos, beautifully taken... [Broderick's] way with words serve her wonderfully well... as clear and spacious as one could wish."
- Tim Ashley, Gramophone
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