Berlioz’ Romances for Voice and Guitar Recorded

ACD2 2800 - cover

BERLIOZ: Romance de Florian, “Amour, on doit bénir.” + Romance de Bédard.* Objet charmant.+ Romance de “Guinare ou l’esclave Persanne.” * Romance de Plantade.+ Romance de Florian, “A Toulouse il fut une belle Clémence.” *+ La Trompette appelle aux alarmes.+ Romance.* Romance de Florian, “Vous qui loin.” + Le Sentiment d’amour.* Romance de l’opéra du “Chaperon rouge.” + Faut l’oublier.* Air du “Petit Jokey.” + Couplets de l’opéra de “La Romance.” * Fleuve du Tage.+ Romance de “L’Opéra Comique,” Que d’établissements nouveaux.+ Romance de l’opéra de “Blaise et Babet.” * Romance de Naderman, “Je pense à vous.” + Romance favorite de Henri IV. + Couplets de l’opéra de “La Romance.” * Air de “Philippe et Georgette.” + Romance de “L’Opéra Comique,” Ah! pour l’amant de plus discret.* “La Sympathie,” Romance de l’opéra “Felicie.” + Minverne ou tombeau de Ryno.* Le Rivage de Valcluse [Romance d. A. Boieldieu]+ / *Magali Simard-Galdés, sop; +Antonio Figueroa, ten; David Jacques, gtr / Atma Classique ACD2 2800

When I wrote my review of Warner Classics’ “complete” Berlioz set, one reader posted a comment that this was not all of Berlioz’ music. I replied that I knew there was more music from his unfinished opera than what was recorded for that set, but I wasn’t aware that there were 25 more songs, written with guitar accompaniment, still to be recorded.

Well, here they are, and this is the first-ever recording of the complete set.

And there’s a backstory to these pieces. In David Cairns’ superb, two-volume biography of the composer, he noted that at one point early in his Parisian life, when his father had once again cut back on his allowance (while still forking out hundreds of francs to pay off the gambling debts of his brother-in-law, Felix Marmion, which by rights he didn’t have to do), Berlioz took a job as a chorister in the theater where they performed second- and third-rate comic operettas. This is where he got some of the material that he wrote for this collection. So it’s not as though these were “serious” works meant to be heard, and probably not at all for publication, but just little ditties that he tossed off for a quick buck while he was living on fruit and air.

But of course, when you’re recording songs it still comes down to voice, and bitter experience has shown me that a great many projects such as this have suffered from poor or mediocre singing. Happily, tenor Antonio Figueroa has a simply lovely light tenor voice perfectly suited to this material, and despite his Latin-sounding name he is French Canadian, so his French diction is flawless. He is also an artist who can color and shade the voice, making him just perfect for these light airs. Soprano Magali Simard-Galdés is also a Quebecoise, and although her voice is not quite as steady as Figueroa’s—it has a bit of a flutter that at times sounds a shade uneven—she, too, has a pretty timbre, superb diction and a fine grasp of style. Thus between them, they made this project an enjoyable as well as an artistic experience.

Naturally, the music presented here is not of the highest order in the Berlioz canon. These really are just light ditties that he arranged for voice and guitar, nothing more. The only reason I might be able to guess Berlioz as the “composer” (arranger, really) if I were played these songs without knowing who wrote them is due to the guitar accompaniment. A poor pianist, Berlioz wrote much of his music on the guitar, an instrument on which he was quite expert. Unfortunately, there were no such things in Paris of his time as strolling minstrels playing the guitar and singing serenades, otherwise he might have picked up some money that way as well.

Because the music is not really pure Berlioz, the question is whether or not you need to have this disc in your Berlioz collection. The answer is, it all depends. If you are, like me, a Berlioz completist—he’s one of five composers I try to own everything they wrote, the others being Beethoven, Mahler, Debussy and Szymanowski—the answer is yes. The answer is also yes if you enjoy light music of this type. For me, it’s a bit borderline, but to be honest I’d rather hear these songs than most of Rossini’s and Donizetti’s operas. The simplicity and unpretentiousness of this music made me smile; to be honest, I was a bit sorry that there was only one duet on the entire album, because Simard-Galdés and Figueroa blend together beautifully. I’d love to hear them sing duets by Mozart or the one from Bizet’s Pêcheurs de Perles someday; their voices are perfect for that kind of material.

A word on the guitar accompaniment, however. David Jacques plays his instrument in the accepted post-Andrés Segovia style of most classical guitarists today, meaning with a light touch, so light that it sounds as if he were barely stroking the strings with the tips of his fingers. For those of you who are into the Historically-Informed Performance thing, this is wrong. Guitarists of Berlioz’ day played the instrument with strong plectrum strokes and used dynamics. It was Segovia who ruined the instrument for the simple reason that he detested and looked down on Gypsy and Flamenco guitarists and thought them scum. Which is nice for him, but he softened the entire concept of guitar playing. So there’s one more real historically-informed tidbit for your files.

Since this was produced by Atma Classique, a French Canadian label, the song texts are in French only, but at least you get the texts. Otherwise, this is a really lovely album and a good addition to your Berlioz library.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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