Wednesday 2 July 2014

Felicien David - Melodies

Felicien David
Songs by Felicien David; Tassis Christoyannis, Thanassis Apostolopoulos; Aparte
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 24 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Rarely performed songs by the interesting 19th century French composer

This disc from the Greek baritone Tassis Christoyannis and pianist Thanassis Apostolopoulos on the Aparte label assembles a group of eighteen songs by the 19th century French composer Felicien David (1810 - 1876). David one of those characters who wanders across the page in biographies of more famous French musicians. As a composer he is best known for his opera Lalla Roukh and his large scale orchestral work Le Desert, but wrote a significant body of songs.

David wrote at a time when French song was changing and the older romance was developing into more sophisticated melodies. Many of his songs were written explicitly for the salon, for private performance and can seem to lack the sophistication of the later songs. But, along with Gounod and Berlioz, David's songs were part of the trend which led to the later melodie. Another reason for interest is the exotic element; in the 1830's David travelled to countries such as Egypt and Algeria and his love of oriental subjects remained. But this is the orient viewed safely from the Parisian armchair, with the musical material rarely going beyond the charmingly exotic picturesque.

From the first song, I was impressed with Tassis Christoyannis's voice. Whilst the song, Le Nuage is a strophic piece in appealing triple time, Christoyannis sings it with a lovely forward, lyric baritone voice and finely evocative French. The result, accompanied by Thanassis Apostolopoulos, is seductively appealing and makes the song quite a delight.

Felicien David
But by the second song, you begin to understand the limits of David's technique. Fleur du bonheur is an attractive lyric romance, but though Christoyannis gives a winning performance the song does not seem complex enough for its length. This applies to a number of songs on the disc, they seem to outstay their welcome; though perhaps your view of them might be altered if you appreciated the poetry fully as well.

Reverie is slower, thoughtful, rather simple yet effective. Saltarelle is rather rousing though I don't think the piece is in a saltarello rhythm. Adieux a Charence is another lyrical romance, but with a lovely melodic sweetness. Reviens, reviewns! is again rather rousing, but with a lyrical undertow. The lullabye Dormez, Marie returns to the romance, but with bags of charm. There is something appealingly exotic about the melody of Le Bedouin, setting words by Jacques Cognat imitating the Arabic.

Formosa is a lyrical ballad with rather a quirky cast to the tune. En chemin, the soldiers song, is rather rousing but with an imaginative rhythmic feel to the piano. The piano parts of David's songs are often appealing and display thought and imagination, he does not just strum chords under the melody. Ja' peur de l'aimer is an appealing piece with a lovely little catch in the vocal lines on the works 'J'ai peur de l'aimer' in the refrain. L'Ocean has a wonderfully vigorous piano part with an extended prelude and interludes in the song. Full of torrential tumult, the piano writing makes for a substantial piece and David complements the piano with a wonderfully virile vocal line.

La Chanson du pecheur (setting a text by Theophile Gautier) is nicely robust lament. Whilst Le Pecheur a sa nacelle is an attractive barbarolle, but again with an attractive robustness to it.  Oubli has rather interesting march-like accompaniment, though it does not seem to have bearing on the text which is all about a forgotten lover. As might be expected Le Chibouk is full delightfully exotic touches in the vocal line, though the words are by Louis Jourdans. Le Viellard et les roses has a similar feel to it, though without the exotic element, showing how David's style was common to all his songs. The disc ends with L'Amitie full of lovely charm, but rather too long at seven minutes.

The CD booklet gives full background to the songs and to David's career. The recording was made under the auspices of the Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice, the Centre de musique romantique francaise.

I have only praise for the performances by Christoyannis and Apostolopous. Between them they bring David's songs to life, performing them with immense style. By doing so they enable us to hear music from an effectively forgotten era.

Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Le Nuage [2.15]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Fleur du bonheur [3.55]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Reverie [3.52]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Saltarelle [2.24]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Adieux a Charence [3.15]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Reviens, reviens! []
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Dormez, Marie [4.41]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Le Bedouin [3.19]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Formosa [4.13]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - En chemin [2.29]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - J'ai peur de l'aimer [3.38]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - L'Ocean [5.20]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - La Chanson du Pecher [4.20]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Le Pecheur a sa nacelle [5.15]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Oubli! [3.18]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Le Tchibouk [4.26]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - Le Vieillard et les roses [4.29]
Felicien David (1810 - 1876) - L'Amitie [7.00]
Tassis Christoyannis (baritone)
Thanassis Apostolopoulos (piano)
Recorded 31 July and 1 August 2013, Salle Dmitris Mitropoulos du Megaron, Athens
APARTE AP 086 1CD [72.00]
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