Complete Songs & Duets
Véronique Gens (soprano), Tassis Christoyannis (baritone), Jeff Cohen (piano)
BruZane BZ2003 104:26 mins (2 discs)
The Palazetto Bru Zane has put its usual energy and sense of purpose into recording all Franck’s 22 songs and six duets to celebrate the bicentenary of his birth this coming December. The 90-page booklet is a mine of information about the composer and his vocal works, asking us to think again about such topics as Franck’s word setting, at which commentators have often looked askance. The test of the pudding, however, is in the listening. Tassis Christoyannis has a seductive pianissimo, but at the other extreme his tone takes on an edge that soon becomes wearing (he spends much of his time in opera houses, where this feature is probably more tolerable). I would also have liked more variety of colour to help us appreciate the sentiments of the poems. While Véronique Gens in the duets is her usual mellifluous self, and Jeff Cohen a capable accompanist, the piano’s bass octaves suggest that the instrument has seen better days.
But above all, the problem as I hear it is that Franck was simply not a born composer of mélodies. After a fairly intensive engagement with these songs, I came away with not a single tune or even memorable moment. Certainly there is nothing here to match the songs of two of his pupils: none of the elfin sparkle of Chausson’s Les Papillons, nor of the majestic dreamworld of Duparc’s La Vie antérieure.