PERFORMER: François Le Roux (baritone); Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67257
Best known as the dedicatee of Poulenc’s song settings Le bestiaire, Louis Durey (1888-1979) was the eldest and least-known member of Les Six. He was inspired by a performance of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande to become a composer, and the 48 songs here, some as little as half a minute long, reveal a synthesis of influences (Debussy – inevitably, Poulenc, Satie, even Stravinsky and Bartók), rather than anything startlingly original.
He has persuasive advocates in the scholarly Graham Johnson and François Le Roux, a peerless Pelléas in his day, but whose voice is coarser than it was. This isn’t in itself a problem in this instance, for Durey’s songs are as much about contriving vocal effects – a little falsetto here, a little percussiveness there, some speech – as beautiful singing. His most significant work is his own version of Apollinaire’s Le bestiaire, begun before Poulenc’s, finished after and lacking its wit and its brevity, even if the piano parts conjure imaginative pictures of the animals the songs are intended to represent. Johnson has done much
to rehabilitate the reputations of obscure composers of French songs – Chausson, Hahn, Déodat de Séverac. But with Durey he has his work cut out. A curiosity, but not an engaging one. Claire Wrathall