Véronique Gens (soprano)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Hervé Niquet
rec. 2021, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Studio 1 Munich, Germany
Alpha Classics 1030 [56]

Véronique Gens is a French operatic soprano, celebrated for her interpretations of Baroque music. She debuted in 1986 with William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants. She is renowned for her Baroque expertise, but she also specialises in Mozart operas and French art songs. Her recordings include works by Mozart, Purcell, Canteloube and Berlioz. As soon as I heard her sing the first few bars of Chansons de Marjolie: Celui que j’aime by Theodore Dubois, I knew that I had backed a winner. Her gorgeous, rich soprano compliments the utterly romantic strains of the song.

This rewarding disc has straightforward background: “Véronique Gens and Hervé Niquet bring back to life a neglected aspect of France’s Romantic heritage: songs with orchestral accompaniment.” Most Francophiles will know Ernest Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer for voice and orchestra, Hector Berlioz’s Nuits d’été, and Maurice Ravel’s Schéhérazade. But most of the orchestral mélodies by French composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century remain “virtually a forgotten continent”.

Big hitters on this disc include Gabriel Fauré, Camille Saint-Saëns, Ernest Chausson and Charles Gounod. Somewhat less well-known names are Reynaldo Hahn and Fernand de la Tombelle. A slightly different scenario applies to Jules Massenet and Theodore Dubois. The former is known for his opera Thaïs and its spin-off, the Meditation. Dubois’s reputation may rest on his Toccata, a warhorse for organ. Cognoscenti will know other works by these composers.

The liner notes explain that Paysage (landscape) “opens up a wide spectrum of the rainbow of sound to every listener to the spell of musical reveries evoked by Véronique Gens”. The driving force of this repertoire is the “sculpting in miniature of strongly characterised dramatic scenes”. These can be happy or sad, often intimate, sometimes very moving. Topics explored here include Hahn’s evocation of Brittany, Fauré and Saint-Saëns’s conjuration of Persia, and the “rural wisdom” of Gounod’s Warbler.

A few short orchestral pieces bring variety to the recital. New to me was Jules Massenet’s Invocation from his music for Les Érinnyes (The Furies), the Pastorale from his opera Esclarmonde and La Solitude from Sappho. All these delightful miniatures deserve playing. Equally attractive is the Nocturne from Gabriel Fauré’s six-movement suite Shylock. This evokes the love scene between Jessica and Lorenzo in Portia’s garden, short but exquisite. Finally, there is a delightful Rêverie by Fernand de la Tombelle, with its delicious mood music on the French horn. Any of these numbers could easily enter the Classic FM charts.

The well-produced booklet includes Alexandre Dratwicki’s helpful notes – thanks!! Dates of the pieces are missing; I have listed them where possible. The notes are in French, English and German, the texts in French with English translations. There are photographs of the soloist, conductor and orchestra.

This is a disc to explore slowly. You will be moved by many of these “lost” treasures from French musical history. Véronique Gens and Hervé Niquet are tremendous ambassadors for this repertoire.

John France

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Presto Music

Théodore Dubois (1837-1924)
Chansons de Marjolie: Celui que j’aime (Louis de Courmont) (1913)
Reynaldo Hahn(1874-1947)
Paysage (André Theuriet) (c.1890)
Théodore Dubois
Petits rêves d’enfant, no.1 Andantino (orchestra) (c.1893-1903)
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Deux Melodies
, op.46: Clair de lune (Paul Verlaine) (1887)
Théodore Dubois
Chansons de Marjolie: En paradis (Louis de Courmont) (1913)
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Mélodies persanes, op.26: La Splendeur vide (Armand Renaud) (1870)
Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Les Érinnyes: Invocation (orchestral) (1873)
Ernest Chausson(1855-1899)
Chansons de Miarka
, op.17: Les Morts (Jean Richepin) (1888)
Fernand de la Tombelle (1854-1928)
Rêverie (orchestral)
Reynaldo Hahn
Mai (François Coppée ) (1889)         
Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
La Fauvette (Charles Millevoye) (c.1872)
Jules Massenet
Esclarmonde: Pastorale (orchestral) (1889)
Théodore Dubois
Musiques sur l’eau: Blancheurs d’ailes (Albert Victor Samain)
Charles Gounod
Clos ta paupière (Gounod) (1873)
Gabriel Fauré
Quatre Melodies, op.39, no.4 Les Roses d’Ispahan (Leconte de Lisle) (1884)
Théodore Dubois
Petits rêves d’enfant, no.2: Andantino grazioso (orchestral) (c.1893-1903)
Ce qui dure (Sully Prudhomme) (1902)
Jules Massenet
Sapho: Solitude (orchestral) (1897)
Reynaldo Hahn
D’une Prison (Paul Verlaine) (1892)
Gabriel Fauré
Shylock, suite, op. 57: Nocturne (orchestral) (1890)
From Deux Mélodies, op.4, no.1, Chanson du pêcheur (Théophile Gautier) (c.1870)
Camille Saint-Saëns
Aimons-nous (Théodore Banville) (1892)