October 29th 2008

Reviews from February 2005




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Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)
Chants d'Auvergne: La pastoura als camps; Bailero; Trois Bourrees; Pastourelle; L'Antoueno; Deux Bourrees; La delaissado; Passo pel prat; Lou boussu; Brezairola; Malurous qu'o uno fenno; Jou l'pount d'o Mirabel; Oi ayai; Lou coucut; Quand z'eyro petitoune; La-haut sur le rocher; Uno jionto postouro; Lo diziou be
Véronique Gens (sop)
Orchestre Nationale de Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus
Rec July 2004, Lille, France
NAXOS 8.557491 [62:13]



Sound Sample: Baïlèro

The bucolic Canteloube songs in Auvergnat dialect and in venerable French are gems, every one. There is not a single dud in the set. Ever since the Dubonnet commercial of the early 1970s they have never been out of the public's affections. That said, when did you last hear them in concert? They are the almost exclusive province of the radio broadcast and the CD player.

I always think of the singer of these songs as the goat shepherdess Manon from the film 'Manon des Sources' - wrong geography for these songs but right spirit. The closest approach to perfection - in fact sui generis is the two CD set by Natania Davrath on Vanguard (Vanguard Classics SVC-38/39). Madeleine Grey's 1930 pioneering recordings are well worth seeking out if you can accept the vintage sound (Pearl GEM0013). Various big names have tackled these songs. Of these, Von Stade (Sony) and Upshaw (leisurely on Warner ERATO 0927 44656 2) did especially well. Others including Kiri Te Kanawa flatten these songs like a trodden snail with an excess of operatic weight. These are, after all, songs of an innocence and worldliness that is both young and pastoral. There should be no intrusive sophistication. Gens is good - make absolutely no mistake. I also liked the engineer's choice to give the diaphanous orchestral role parity of prominence with the voice. Gens' voice has the slightest suggestion of plumminess which takes some of the attractive sheen off this new issue. She is however excellent at getting her lips around tongue-twisters such as Obal din lou Limouzi (tr. 5) Excerpt . Her breath control is a thing of wonder in Pastourelle (tr. 6). Excerpt Gens and Casadesus are just a little hasty in the Baïlero - robbing this glorious heat-haze of a song of its full effect. The wheeze of the village band in Oud 'onoren gorda? (tr. 4) Excerpt is faithfully caught by the Lille orchestra. Interesting to hear that the Delian pulse at the start of Oï ayaï (tr. 16). Excerpt The recording gives a jewelled eminence to the orchestral piano. In the long introduction to Lo delaïssádo there is a startlingly Finzian plangency to the woodwind parts. Excerpt The little instrumental 'yawns' in Brezairola register tellingly. Excerpt

By the look of the recording dates the team took a lot of time to get the songs just right. It's just a pity that opportunity was not taken to put more songs on the disc.

This is a very good economical single disc version of 21 of the Auvergne songs. They are well sung and the orchestral role is given the attention its attractions clamantly demand. The picture is completed by Naxos’s decision to print full sung texts and parallel translations into English.

Speaking of which, the last song ends with a vengeful Housman-like touch when the girl speaks of faithless Pierre who steals hearts and breaks them. The girl sings with feeling of her heart stolen by Pierre. No sighs here, however: to startling donkey brays from the orchestra she sings
'If you ever do that again / Give that trouble / I will take my knife /And skin you alive.' And I think she means it Pierre!


Véronique Gens has easily one of the most exquisite voices in the business today; moreover anything she does is uncommonly intelligent and musically informed. With this recording Naxos enters the echelons of upmarket performances. In this material, Gens outclasses Kiri te Kanawa in terms of vocal beauty and is in an altogether different league interpretatively. She is even a match for the venerable recording made by the late Victoria de los Angeles. Indeed, she may even have an edge over her competitors, for Gens is a native of the Auvergne. She would have grown up well aware of the history and traditions of regional culture. I have no idea whether she speaks the dialect, but her way with these texts is natural and instinctive.

In our age of cultural homogeneity, it's hard to appreciate what regional identity meant in an earlier age, and how important it was. Canteloube was called "le bard d'Auvergne" because he was passionately involved in preserving the folklore and music of his native land. At the turn of the century many composers returned to folk idiom for inspiration – Vaughan Williams, for example – but Canteloube was himself a genuine man of the people, so to speak, who had grown up in the countryside. When he went to farms and villages to collect folk music, he could communicate as an equal, without condescension. His music therefore has a particularly vivid, exotic feel to it. There are echoes of a musical tradition outside the mainstream, shaped by the mountainous isolation of many parts of the Auvergne. Many of Canteloube's songs are also informed by "medieval" music, and the romance of the troubadour tradition. The Trois Bourrées could have stepped out from a medieval fair. This is yet another reason why Gens carries this music off with such verve; her background is in early music and the baroque. She approaches songs like Lou bousu and Malurous qu'o uno fenno with vigour, understanding the earthy nature of pre-modern music. Extract These songs are not technically challenging, but they need to be sung without affectation or condescension.

Casadesus conducts with great flair, making the most of the flamboyant gestures and joyful rhythms. The orchestra is very focused and expressive. Special mention too should be made of soloists like the horn player in La delaïssádo and the pianist in Passo pel Prat. This recording is so distinctive that I've little doubt it will be the definitive Chants d'Auvergne for many years to come. Gens raises Naxos's artistic image by her brilliance, and this recording will sell, and sell, and sell ......

Anne Ozorio



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