Cressonnois, Delibes, Lococq, Pessard, Godard, Puget, Hillemacher, Paladilhe & Duparc.

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Cressonnois,Delibes,Godard,Hillemacher,Lococq,Paladilhe & Duparc.,Pessard,Puget
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: L’invitation au voyage
WORKS: Mélodies from La belle époque
PERFORMER: John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67523
As Graham Johnson says, ‘the songs on this disc are the tip of the iceberg in a veritable embarras de richesses’. The high quality of the training offered to French composers in the middle and late 19th century meant that very little they wrote was incompetent and that even second-rate composers would from time to time hit the bull’s-eye.

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Johnson’s unrivalled knowledge of the repertoire makes him the ideal guide. There are some fine songs here. Paladilhe’s ‘Danse indienne’ has real shape and atmosphere, ‘Soupir’ as set by the brothers Hillemacher is a worthy rival to Duparc’s version, and Pessard’s ‘Le spectre de la rose’ makes one forget Berlioz, if only momentarily. I was glad too to be reminded what a good composer Delibes is, and to be introduced to Lecocq’s wonderfully witty settings of La Fontaine. The actual piano sound is for me a touch prosaic at times, but this is compensated by John Mark Ainsley’s absolute control and superb diction: for once, Hyperion’s accurately printed texts are barely needed. He sings everything (from firm low B flats upwards) intelligently and meaningfully and his Provençal accent in ‘La chanson des blondes’ is spot on. A disc to treasure.

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Roger Nichols