Tassis Christoyannis and Jeff Cohen perform Mélodies by Saint-Saëns

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COMPOSERS: Camille Saint-Saëns
LABELS: Aparté
ALBUM TITLE: Saint-Saëns
WORKS: Mélodies persanes; Cinq poèmes de Ronsard; Vieilles Chansons; La cendre rouge
PERFORMER: Tassis Christoyannis (baritone), Jeff Cohen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: AP 132

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As a mélodie writer Saint-Saëns may not rank with the very best – Fauré, Duparc, Debussy, Poulenc – but his songs are still well worth hearing and, like everything else he wrote, perfectly adapted to their medium. There are surprises too, notably in the more complex harmonies of the 1914 cycle La cendre rouge, where he admitted to trying his hand at something different: the scattered textures in ‘Âme triste’ are little short of bizarre, while the modulations in ‘Silence’ suggest that, despite his doubts over Fauré’s harmonic practice, he was not above learning from him.

But at the heart of his style lay the practice not merely of the Romantics but of the Baroque, and he uses its clean outlines to fine advantage in his settings of Ronsard, including a splendid patter song on ‘Grasselette et Maigrelette’. Tassis Christoyannis, as in his recording of Lalo’s songs, is mellifluous and I heard every word of the texts. But that’s not the whole deal. In a recital of over 70 minutes, there needs to be more variety of tone and articulation: in Ronsard’s ‘L’amour oyseau’ we could do with a feeling of surprise on ‘par cas d’aventure’ and some hardening of the tone around the word ‘colère’. Jeff Cohen’s impeccable, lively playing cannot quite make up the deficit.

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Roger Nichols