Songs by Lekeu, Fauré, Berlioz, Tombelle, Massenet, Saint-Saëns, Chausson, Liszt, Ropartz, Widor, Marcel, Messager & Hahn
Véronique Gens (soprano); I Giardini
Alpha Classics ALPHA 589 61:41 mins
This celebration of nighttime is made up of four sections: night of love, night abroad, nightmare and night of festivities. The 14 tracks therefore cover a wide area of French music from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from ‘La lune blanche’ taken from Fauré’s La bonne chanson through evocations of Spain and the Orient to operetta arias and café songs.
The piano quintet accompaniments by Alexandre Dratwicki mostly take their rationale from Fauré’s own instrumentation of La bonne chanson (even if the composer later fell out of love with it) and, as the arranger says, do not overload the texture ‘with unwarranted and inappropriate virtuoso effects’. The songs are also chosen, for the most part, with Véronique Gens’s voice in mind – no longer the bright soprano of 20 years ago, but now a warm and expressive mezzo, ideal in the more soulful mélodies such as Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle.
My only ‘but’ – and it’s a heartfelt one – is over the inclusion of ‘La vie en rose’ and ‘J’ai deux amants’. At the risk of sounding unkind, I have to disagree with the note writer that Gens possesses ‘incomparable artistry as a diseuse’. The gulf between her and Edith Piaf is a wide one, but not larger than with Yvonne Printemps, who in 1923 was the first to sing ‘J’ai deux amants’ and whose sparkling, hilarious performance can be found on YouTube, a welcome delight in these difficult times.