Lili Boulanger: Clairières dans le ciel; Les sirènes; Renouveau; Hymne au soleil

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Lili Boulanger
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Clairières dans le ciel; Les sirènes; Renouveau; Hymne au soleil
PERFORMER: Martyn Hill (tenor), Andrew Ball (piano); New London Chamber Choir/James Wood
‘War in laces’ blasted a headline in 1913. The event was not a preparative for the Great War, but the award of France’s famous Prix de Rome to a woman, the 19-year-old Lili Boulanger. Five years later Boulanger was dead. After a childhood spent in illness-induced isolation, this precocious talent expired, leaving an all too small corpus of works.

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The choral pieces recorded here are the fruits of Boulanger’s four-year preparation for the Prix de Rome: she studied with Georges Caussade, writing choral items with orchestral accompaniment, as stipulated by the rules of the competition. This disc unfortunately strips its five choral works of half their substance by denying us the experience of Boulanger’s orchestration: the piano accompaniment reveals no inkling of the muscular spatial brass effects in Pour les funerailles d’un soldat, for instance.

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For those who admire Martyn Hill’s suitably nasal tone, the song cycle Clairières dans le ciel, a substantial 35-minute piece, has much to offer. Bestriding the different worlds of Wagner and Debussy, this setting of Francis Jammes’s Tristesses allows ample scope for Hill’s sensitivity to the nuances of French song, while the hypnotic and beguiling Les sirènes and exotic Hymne au soleil, which depicts a Hindu religious rite, are similarly pale without their orchestral colour. Deborah Calland