A Verlaine Songbook

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COMPOSERS: Chausson,De Séverac,Debussy,Faure,Hahn & Bordes,Poldowski,Ravel,Saint-Saens,Szulc
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: A Verlaine Songbook
WORKS: Fauré: La bonne chanson. Plus songs by Debussy, Poldowski, Ravel, Szulc, de Severac, Chausson, Saint-Saëns, Hahn & Bordes
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2233 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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With so much music in Paul Verlaine’s words, no wonder they were so often set by the composers of fin-de-siècle France. Fauré, introduced to Verlaine by the Princesse de Polignac, sought to write an opera with him, but found the poet busy drinking himself to death and ended up playing the organ at his funeral. He did, however, create some of his best songs on Verlaine’s existing poems, including the cycle La bonne chanson. The Watteauesque imagery of the Fêtes galantes poems also magnetised Debussy – but numerous others besides.

Among the lesser-known composers whose settings deserve the attention Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton bring them are Joseph Szulc and Déodat de Séverac; but to me the discovery of the disc are the songs by ‘Poldowski’ – a pseudonym for Régine Wieniawski, later Lady Dean Paul, the daughter of the violinist Henryk Wieniawski and a colourful character well worth googling. Her songs prove nothing short of fabulous: warm, energetic and melodic, with a deep-set richness of harmonic language.

Sampson’s pure, shining tone matches the finesse of this repertoire and her lower range sometimes has the softness and subtle qualities of a deep flute. Fauré’s La bonne chanson comes over slightly brisk and anodyne, but the early Debussy settings are splendidly etched, with a fine mix of deep feeling and objectivity. Middleton provides a bright cushion of support throughout and the recorded SACD sound quality is excellent.

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Jessica Duchen