FAURÉ: Le papillon et la fleur. L’Aurore. Rêve d’amour. Ici-bas. Notre amour. La fée aux chansons. Aurore. Noël. La Rose. Vocalise-Étude. Arpège. Mélisande’s Song. Prison. Soir. C’est la paix. Mirages / Hélène Guilmette, sop / Seule. Au bord de l’eau. Les Berceaux. Les presents. Le Don silencieux. La chanson d’Eve. Le jardin Clos / Julie Boulianne, mezzo / Mai. Puisque j’ai mis la lèvre. Dans les ruines d’une Abbaye. Sylvie. Hymne. Barcarolle. Nell. Le voyageur. Poème d’un jour. Fleur jetée. Le pays de rêves. Les roses d’Ispahan. Clair de lune. Larmes. Au cimitière. Shylock. La bonne chanson. Le parfum impérissable. Sérénade Toscane / Antonio Figueroa, ten / Tristesse d’Olympio. Les Matelots. La chanson de pêcheur. Lydia. Chant d’automne. L’absent. Aubade. Tristesse. Après un reve. La rançon. Automne. Le secret. Chanson d’amour. En prière. Nocturne. Spleen. Sérénade du bourgeois gentilhomme. Cinq melodies de Venise. Dans le forêt de Septembre. La fleur qui va sur l’eau. Accompagnement. Le plus doux chemin. Le ramier. Chanson. L’horizon Chimerique / Marc Boucher, bar / Puisqu’ici-bas. Tarentelle / Guilmette & Boulianne / Pleuirs d’or / Guilmette & Boucher / Madrigal / Guilmette, Boulianne, Figueroa, Boucher; Olivier Godin, pn / Atma Classique 2741
One of the problems of getting a complete set of songs by a single composer, particularly nowadays, is that there always seems to be at least one singer in the mix who has a defective voice. I should get this out of the way quickly and point out that the fly in the ointment here is Canadian baritone Marc Boucher, who has an uneven, loose vibrato and occasional strain and nasality in his high notes. He is an interesting interpreter, so he has that in his favor, whereas the wonderful soprano Hélène Guilmette doesn’t appear to interpret much at all, but for my taste he gets way too many of these songs to sing. In some of the faster songs, i.e. Les Matelots, his voice doesn’t wobble too much because he doesn’t have that many sustained notes to sing.
The other three singers, happily, have wonderful voices, particularly tenor Antonio Figueroa, whose tone and light, quick vibrato sound remarkably like the old French tenors of long ago. He is also a master of vocal coloration and interprets his songs wonderfully. Being familiar with Guilmette from other recordings, I knew how good her voice was, but I was surprised and delighted by mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne, whose voice is also pure and beautifully placed and whose legato, like Guilmette’s, is superb. Her vocal timbre reminded me of young Marilyn Horne, and her interpretations are less generalized that Guilmette’s.
Nonetheless, considering that there are only four singers on this set, you have to wonder that Atma Classique couldn’t locate a better baritone. Canada seems rife with them nowadays. Russell Braun would have been a first-class choice. Perhaps he wasn’t available.
As for the songs themselves, they cover virtually the full range of Fauré’s career, from his Op. 1 to Op. 106. Naturally the early ones, written when he was only 26, are more derivative stylistically than his later works—Lydia is particularly repetitive and boring—yet even in this early sequence you run across occasional gems likes La chanson du pêcheur with its interesting use of harmony and narrative style, and L’absent is quite a dramatic song, with contrasting sections and a non-repetitive melody. Despite his not having much of a voice, Boucher nonetheless does a fine interpretation of the famous Après un reve. The duets sung by Guilmette and Boulianne are simply exquisite. The second of these, Tarantelle, also gets some pretty nifty coloratura duetting.
Indeed, as the album progressed, I found myself enjoying it more and more, even when Boucher was singing because, despite his vocal flaws, he is a sensitive interpreter. Maybe I’m getting old, but I really enjoyed this set overall. Much of it has to do with Fauré’s genius; quite a bit of credit also goes to pianist Olivier Godin, who is consistently engaged and excellent throughout. By the time we reach the song cycle La bonne chanson, we’ve reached Fauré’s mature style, with much more interesting chord changes being the norm rather than the exception, and Figueroa sing it beautifully.
The album comes with lyrics to all of the songs, but in French only. Still, this is a set you’ll probably want if you’re a Fauré fancier, even if you have several of these songs by other artists.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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