Faure: La naissance de Venus; Cantique de Jean Racine; Songs

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COMPOSERS: Faure
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: La naissance de Venus; Cantique de Jean Racine; Songs
PERFORMER: Brigitte Lafon (soprano), Bruno Ranc (tenor), Jacques Bona (bass), Jean-Claude Pennetier (piano), Louis Robilliard (organ), Bo Yuan (double bass), Solistes de Lyon-Bernard Tetu, Ravel Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56728 2
This disc takes us deep into the secret heart of Fauré. The mélodie reveals its most subtle and elusive imaginative pulse, and 14 songs, for any number of combinations of voices and piano, are performed here by a characterful palette of French voices from the Solistes de Lyon, directed by Bernard Tétu. Jean-Claude Pennetier’s light-filled piano playing is recorded with beautiful clarity and balance.

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Framing the 14 mélodies and choral works are two revelatory world premiere recordings. The Birth of Venus is a ‘mythological scene’ for soloists, chorus and piano which Fauré wrote at a time when the Requiem was very much on his mind, and it often sounds like it. Gently pungent harmonies, soft-focus choral writing and rhapsodic piano interludes merge into a 22-minute aquarelle which does, nevertheless, have its longueurs. But the musicians, in particular Pennetier at the piano, soprano Brigitte Lafon as Venus and the mellifluous tenor Bruno Ranc as Jupiter, perform with such affection and commitment that even Jupiter’s bland and sanctimonious blessing becomes bearable.

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The five-minute Cantique de Jean Racine, written 20 years earlier, is a stronger, more eloquent work, its spare vocal polyphony articulating the very essence of Racine’s Classical style, and lit by the resonant colours of string quintet and the organ of St François de Sales in Lyon. Hilary Finch