Fauré • Respighi • Chausson

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COMPOSERS: Chausson; Faure; Respighi
LABELS: Le Chant du Monde
ALBUM TITLE: Fauré • Respighi • Chausson
WORKS: La bonne chanson; Cinq mélodies de Venise
PERFORMER: Sophie Koch (mezzo-soprano), Sophie Raynaud (piano), Vincent Pasquier (double bass); Castagneri Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: LDC 2781117

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It is a mystery that Respighi’s great Romantic poemetto lirico Il tramonto is so rarely heard, let alone recorded. Written in 1918 for voice and string quartet, it sets an Italian translation of Shelley’s extraordinary meditation on death, The Sunset, to harrowing effect. The music is a far cry from the extrovert, saturated colours of his orchestral writing, recalling Debussy’s Pelléas and Strauss’s Four Last Songs far more than his Fontane or Pini di Roma. Here the vocal line is recitative, and much of the string-writing is nerve-stretchingly static and raw. Of the few existing recordings, all of which have till now used Respighi’s revised version for string orchestra, the best was made in 1996 by the peerless Lorraine Hunt (before she appended the Lieberson) and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Her glorious voice is honeyed and burnished, and her portrayal of a woman maddened by grief is heartbreaking in its stoicism, intensity and beauty. This is the madness of profound depression, not histrionic hair-tearing, but Hunt’s is a shattering performance nevertheless (and would be one of my desert island discs). The young French mezzo Sophie Koch has a hard act to follow, but this new recording, which uses the original version for string quartet, outstandingly well played by the Castagneri Quartet, has much to commend it. Koch has a heavier voice and lacks Hunt’s gorgeous tone, but she is powerfully sincere and fervent, and undercuts her somewhat deliberate style with a subtle tremulousness to disarming effect. The disc also contains finely judged accounts of Fauré’s La bonne chanson and Cinq mélodies de Venise and Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle.

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Claire Wrathall