Chanson d’Amour
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Chanson d’Amour

Sabine Devieilhe, Alexandre Tharaud

Sabine Devieilhe and Alexandre Tharaud bring their customary clarity, finesse and insight to the works of four composers who defined the path of French art song or mélodie from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. In an imaginatively balanced recital, the two French luminaries perform Fauré, Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc. Their programme, built around Ravel’s Cinq Chansons populaires grecques and Debussy’s Verlaine setting Ariettes oubliées, takes up the themes of love, war and death and offers both favourite songs like Fauré’s ‘Après un rêve’ and some rarer treasures.


In Chanson d’Amour, heavenly-voiced Sabine Devieilhe takes us on a journey to France, via the music of Fauré, Ravel, Poulenc and Debussy. I know her best as an opera singer possessed of a stratospherically high vocal range, and on this occasion Devieilhe impresses with her middle-register, and her intelligent approach to art song. Alexandre Tharaud is Devieilhe’s sensitive associate artist, whose fingers make light but brilliant work of the piano accompaniments.

Favourites are offerings from Poulenc – a composer whose music straddles both the ridiculous and the sublime. ‘Voyage à Paris’ is set to a few lines of doggerel by Apollinaire, who contemplates how delightful it will be to leave a dismal place for Paris, a city created by love. I am transported to Paris every time I hear this song, just as I am to the maison close Apollinaire describes in ‘Hotel’: ‘my room forms a cage, as the sun passes its arms through the window. I smoke for the sake of making shapes with the vapour, and I light my cigarette with the sun’s fire. I don’t want to work, I want to smoke.’ Poulenc’s music is aptly languid, brought to life by Devieilhe’s divine and finely spun voice. I challenge anyone to keep up with the goings-on described in ‘Fêtes Galantes’ – the commuters rushing by on their bikes and in their cars, the children playing, the haves and the have-nots – as Devieilhe swiftly reels off the text in her immaculately clear French.

Fauré’s music offers a more darkly romantic perspective of France. His hypnotic ‘Les berceaux’ takes on a youthful colour in Devieilhe’s voice, the clarity of her tone belying the sadness of the women who wait patiently for sons and husbands out at sea, perhaps never to return. A delicious selection of 29 enchanting French mélodies.

Alexandra Mathew is a classical music specialist at Readings Carlton.

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