Monday, 11 January 2016

Lalo - complete songs

Lalo - Complete Songs - Aparte
Edouard Lalo complete songs; Tassis Christoyannis, Jeff Cohen; Aparté
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 15 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Survey of Lalo's songs showing there was more to him than his well known hit.

Edouard Lalo is best known for his Symphonie Espagnole but the rest of his output remains largely unexplored apart from very occasional sightings of his opera Le Roi d'Ys. Now baritone Tassis Christoyannis and pianist Jeff Cohen have enabled us to explore Lalo's contribution to the development of the French mélodie with a recording of Lalo's complete songs on the Aparté label (distributed by Harmonia Mundi) with the support of Palazzetto Bru Zane.

The songs on the two discs span Lalo's career from Adieu au désert and L'Ombre de Dieu written in 1848 (when he was 25) to Le Rouge-gorge written in 1887 five years before his death. This was a period when the French mélodie was developing (Faure's earliest songs date from the 1860's), moving from the salon to the concert hall with the romantic ballad giving way to the art song.

The first disc opens with Lalo's two earliest songs, L'Ombre de Dieu and Adieu au désert, followed by the Six Romances populaires de Pierre-Jean de Béranger of 1849, and Le Novice - scène pour baryton from the same year. L'Ombre de Dieu and Adieu au désert, are both quite conventional yet charming with Tassis Christoyannis bringing a nice sense of shape to Lalo's lines. The six settings of narrative poems by the chansonnier Pierre-Jean de Béranger include some remarkably large scale pieces (two last over ten minutes each) but Lalo relies a little too much on the strophic song and though there are interesting complex elements and moments of drama, the pieces lack the visceral power of long narrative ballads like those of Karl Loewe. Christoyannis brings out a good sense of the words, and you feel that these are best appreciated as sung narrative poems. The final work on the first disc, Le Novice is a long (nearly 15 minutes) dramatic scene setting poetry by Hippolyte Stupuy. Here Lalo creates something larger scale and the emotional temperature rises.

The second disc concentrates on Lalo's later songs. Many are still strophic, but it is noticeable how Lalo's handling of the medium grows more complex and interesting. The disc opens with Six Mélodies, Op.17 published in 1856 and all setting poetry by Victor Hugo. Guitare is nicely urgent, whilst the lovely Puisqu'ici-bas toute ame has a lyrical melody over a rocking figure in the piano. L'Aube nait succeeds because it receives a lovely urgent performance, and there is a perky charm to Diu qui sourit et qui donne. Oh! quand je dors combines melodic beauty with a wandering piano part. There is a bouncy snap to the rhythm of Amis, vive l'orgie whilst Chanson a boire is intriguingly characterful, both are from Hugo's Lucrece Borgia

Ballade a la lune (1860) is a lively serenade setting words by Alfred de Musset, and Lalo's Trio Melodies (1870) sets three poems by the same poet. A une fleur is low key but with an interesting complexity to it,  Chanson de Barberine is a charmingly characterful serenade whilst La Zuecca has a perky charm.

Aubade (1872) setting Victor Wilder (translator of Wagner's librettos) is lyrical and characterful, and you notice that by this date not only are the songs getting more complex but the piano accompaniments are more interesting. Trois Melodies from the same period, uses a mix of poets (Stella, Hugo, Gautier). Le Fenaison is nicely swaggering, whilst Souvenir and L'Esclave are intimate and intense with a lovely subtlety to the performances.

In 1879 the German publisher Schott produced a group of Lalo's songs under the title Cinq Lieder, quite an unusual move in Germany at the time and a sign of the regard in which they were held. Priere de l'enfant a son reveil is lovely, full of quiet passion. A celle qui part is vibrant and dramatic with a real bravura piano part. Tristesse had an elegiac melancholy to it, with Christoyannis singing with lovely hushed tone. Viens is melancholy again yet full of passion and the final song La Chanson de l'alouette is charm itself with a delicately imaginative piano part.

The last three songs were all written late in Lalo's composing life. Le Chant Breton introduces the oboe of Johannes Grosso into a world which Wagner-influenced and there is a lovely improvisatory freedom to the vocal line. Marine is large scale in conception (even if short in length) and again we are in a finely complex world where Wagner's influence looms. The final song, Le Rouge-gorge provides an interesting link between old and new, its complexity clearly marking its late production but in style there is something of the earlier romances too. These last three songs would definitely seem candidates for far wider dissemination.

The booklet includes an excellent article along with full texts and translations. My only complaint is that you have to work through the article to get the dates of the songs; with such rare repertoire if would have been helpful if the CD contents list had included dates.

Lalo's songs on this disc have immediacy and charm, especially in the performances from Tassis Christoyannis and Jeff Cohen. Like Graham Johnson and Francois Le Roux's 1997 disc of Saint-Saens songs on Hyperion, this disc enables us to appreciate the wide range of development of French song which was taking place in the 19th century. The songs are not all little masterpieces, and do require sympathetic performers, but Tassis Christoyannis and Jeff Cohen really make you want to listen
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - L'Ombre de Dieu (1848)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Adieu au Desert (1848)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Six Romance populaires de Pierre-Jean de Beranger (1849)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Le Novice (1849)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Six Melodies, Op.17 (1856)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Ballade a la lune (1860)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Trois Melodies sur des poemes d'Alfred Musset (1870)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Aubade (1872)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) -Trois melodies (1870)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Cinq Lieder (1879)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Le chant breton (1884)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Marine (1884)
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892) - Le Rouge-gorge (1887)
Tassis Christoyannis (baritone)
Jeff Cohen (piano)
Recorded 12-14 January 2014, 27-29 March 2015, Theatre Sain-Bonnet, Bourges
APARTE AP110 2CD's [70:00, 60:00]

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