LABELS: Decca Entartete Musik
WORKS: Les feuilles mortes: chansons
PERFORMER: François Le Roux (baritone), Jeff Cohen (piano), Matthew Hunt (clarinet), Levine Andrade (violin), Gustav Clarkson (viola), Julia Desbrulais (cello), Karen Street (accordion)
CATALOGUE NO: 460 050-2
I must confess that until the wonderfully nostalgic opening bars of ‘Les feuilles mortes’ wafted through my loudspeakers I had remained completely unaware that the composer of this enduringly popular song (better-known to most English listeners as ‘Autumn Leaves’) was in fact a Hungarian-born refugee who had settled in Paris in the Thirties after the advent of the Nazis. But despite this unexpected background, Joseph Kosma seems to have assimilated all the vital musical ingredients of the French chanson tradition with startling brilliance.
The present release, however, offers us far more than a sequence of charming quintessentially French mélodies. Residing in Berlin during the late Twenties, Kosma had been close to Hanns Eisler, and he soon appreciated his colleague’s capacity to project a strongly defined political message through the medium of song. This particular element comes to the fore in such stirring music as the ‘Hymn to the Resistance’ and the disturbing ‘Coal-trimmers’. In addition, there are haunting images of Kosma’s Jewish heritage in the poignant Chants du ghetto – a short cycle for solo piano.
Although over 78 minutes of music by a relatively unknown composer may seem too much of a good thing, the programme is intelligently planned so as to demonstrate Kosma’s undoubted versatility, and the performers make out the best possible case for further exploration of this interesting figure. Erik Levi