Music Set to Dumas’ Poetry

Alexandre Dumas

ALEXANDRE DUMAS ET LA MUSIQUE / MASSENET: Élégie.1,4 Soleil couchant.3 BERLIOZ: La Belle Isabeau.2 La Captive.3,4 LISZT: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher.3 DUPARC: La Fuite.1,3 GODARD: Jocelyn: Berceuse.2,4 Te souviens-tu.1 DOCHE: L’Ange.2 DUPREZ: Nita la gonsolière.1 H. MOMPOU: Piquillo: Ah! pour cotre assistance seigneur.1-3 VARNEY: Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge: Chœur des Girondins.1-3 MESSAGER: Le Chevalier d’Harmental: Ah! Ah! L’Abbé, je l’ai mis en déroute!1 GUION: Amour, printemps – Printemps amour!2 FRANCK: Le Sylphe.3,4 REBER: Le Jardin.3 THOMÉ: Le Jardin 1 / 1Kaëlig Boché, ten; 2Karine Deshayes, mezzo; 3Marie-Laure Garnier, sop; 4Raphael Jouan, cello; Alphonse Cemin, pno / Alpha Classics 657

The concept of this album is an interesting one, songs and arias set mostlly to texts by Alexandre Dumas père, author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, who wrote a lot of poetry and, on commission, texts to certain operas, not Dumas fils who wrote La Dame aux Camelias on which La Traviata was based. Only a very few well-known pieces are included here, such as Massenet’s Élégie and Godard’s once-wildly-popular “Berceuse” from Jocelyn. Most of the songs and arias are fairly obscure, and some of them are superb.

The problem is that two of the three singers aren’t particularly good. Tenor Kaëlig Boché has an infirm, fluttery voice, and soprano Marie-Laure Garnier has both a flutter and a tight, nasal top range. Only mezzo-soprano Karine Deshayes is truly superb in every way. How much you want to bet that either Boché or Garnier helped pay for this recording to be made?

Happily, pianist Cemin and cellist Jouan, who plays on four of the tracks, are excellent, and they help hold the musical performances together. And I really was surprised and delighted by many songs that were new to me, particularly Liszt’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher and Duparc’s La Fuille Fuite. I also have to admit that this is the first time I’ve ever heard a mezzo sing the famous Jocelyn berceuse, and although Deshayes is a superb singer, I didn’t much care for it—particularly with a cello playing the accompaniment instead of a violin.

I was also surprised to hear a song written by none other than (Louis)-Gilbert Duprez, the famous tenor who took over Les Huguenots when the creator of Raoul, Adolphe Nourrit, committed suicide due to depression over his encroaching liver disease. And it’s not a bad song at all, really, cheerful and well constructed. I also got a kick out of the trio from Mompou’s opera Piquillo, a lively, well-written piece in which all three singers are in there pitching.

In fact, it might be my imagination, but I would swear that Boché actually gets better and better as the recital moves on. Not only is he good in the Duprez and Mompou pieces, but he sings the tar out of yet another operatic ensemble, the trio from Alphonse Varney’s Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge as well as the aria from André Messager’s Le Chevalier d’Harmental.

But whether their voices are good or somewhat poor, all three singers really give this recital zest with their continually lively interpretations, for which I credit pianist Cemin. It’s just so much fun to listen to that I, at least, was able to overlook the occasional glitches in voice production, and that’s not common for me.

When all is said and done, then, this is clearly an interesting and entertaining CD.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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