Fauré
Nell Op.18/1; Les roses d’Ispahan, Op.39/4; Spleen, Op.51/3; Après un rêve, Op.7/1; Clair de lune, Op.46/2; Notre amour, Op.23/2
Le jardin clos, Op.106
Mai, Op.1/2; Chanson d’amour, Op.27/1; L’absent, Op.5/3; Lydia, Op.4/2
Cinq Mélodies ‘de Venise’, Op.58
Ailish Tynan (soprano) & Iain Burnside (piano)

Recorded 13-15 July 2009 at St Paul’s Church, Woodland Road, New Southgate, London
CD No: OPUS ARTE
OA CD9018 D
Duration: 52 minutes
Reviewed: November 2013
In 2003 Ailish Tynan won what was then known as the Rosenblatt Recital Lieder Prize at Cardiff Singer of the World. She has since given two recitals as part of the Rosenblatt series itself (neither of which included songs by Fauré) but she has made clear her admiration of the composer. This Opus Arte release is a studio recording which confirms her possession of a suitable voice and a thorough understanding of Fauré’s style.
When Fauré died in 1924 at the age of 79 he had witnessed and participated in the development of French mélodie from the age of Gounod to Debussy and beyond. His productive career as a songwriter lasted from the age of 16 to virtually the end of his life. Far from being static as a song composer he progressed from the period of what are generally his most popular settings to more sophisticated creativity and with an individuality which paid little tribute to other progressive trends in European music. Both periods are represented in this recital and their order encourages listening straight through. An initial half-dozen of the most popular and accessible songs to whet the appetite herald one of the final cycles, Le jardin clos, generally considered to be ‘difficult’ and certainly elusive.
The opening number, the ever-popular ‘Nell’, is typical of what is to come from pianist and singer. Iain Burnside embarks on those rippling broken chords which are so habitual in Fauré’s song output, propelling the music forward with seemingly unstoppable force, while Tynan shows the essential legato to maintain the poetic argument. The words are given full value at a dynamic level of predominantly mezzo-forte, showing an added excitement reasonably enough only at the mention of Nell’s name, after which the song sinks to a relatively gentle close. Incidentally, Graham Johnson in his invaluable book on French mélodie, demonstrates that a piano part which seems to be so simple and tuneful turns out in practice to conceal a constantly shifting harmonic texture; Faure is never to be under-rated.
The mobility of ‘Nell’ meets its contrast in the gentle pace of ‘Les roses d’Ispahan’. I do not buy the opinion that the lumbering, uneven motion of a camel train across the North African desert can be heard in it, for the piano part surely enacts rather trudging monotony, and Burnside seems to have this in mind. ‘Spleen’ (“Il pleure dans mon Coeur”), like several of these settings, attracts comparison with those by other French composers. Debussy’s version is a dramatised narrative, with pauses and greater extremes of dynamics. Faure’s is characteristically even, the falling rain always circulating in the background and the emotion contained. ‘Après un rêve’ is probably the most recorded Fauré song. Here Tynan introduces noticeably more colour: the first line of the second stanza reflects a peremptory command, changing immediately to the thrill of being magically borne to a celestial paradise. Then the first cry of “Hélas!” is probably the loudest vocal sound on the disc and unlike the restraint so prevalent elsewhere. ‘Notre amour’ returns to more normal territory. But you can have too much of a good thing... These artists do not fall into the trap of believing that the dominant theme of love requires to be conveyed in a breathless scramble. The tempo marking is Allegretto and anything faster threatens the audibility of the words. They choose a happy medium, a speed which shows they are aware of the risk of losing the vital impression of sincerity while retaining the song’s essential freshness.
Tynan’s lyric soprano offers to these songs the perfect balance between rich warmth of tone and crystal purity. This is heard at its most delectable in ‘Clair de lune’. Tynan is a refined and intelligent artist, one of charm and spontaneity. Rarely can one trace anything other than a smile on Tynan’s features. She does not make the mistake of over-interpreting the creations of a composer who throughout his career set texts with a superior kind of taste and made his points unobtrusively. Tynan thoughtfully avoids drawing attention to individual words. Her chest register is occasionally deployed to colour an emotion.
The second set of individual songs varies quite markedly. There is an intense love-song,’ Lydia’, to words by Leconte de Lisle. Of the two Victor Hugo settings ‘Mai’ (written by a teenaged Fauré) comprises another elated stream of melody but ‘L’absent’ poses quite different challenges, showing the 26-year-old composer facing a tragic subject. He had yet to acquire the confidence to find a really original method to handle this powerfully-structured poem about death and mourning. He falls back on histrionics, funeral bells for the piano giving way to a rather lurid climax in the third stanza. To Tynan’s credit, however, she seizes the opportunity to show deeper insights in these two songs.
The cycle Le Jardin clos, with poems by the Symbolist poet Charles van Lerberghe, is a product of Fauré’s final years and the inventive tonal imagination which flourished at that time. One noticeable feature is the frequent detachment of the piano from the vocal line; sometimes they seem to come from a different song, nowhere more so than in ‘Quand tu plonges tes yeux dans mes yeux’, where the piano writing is almost ham-fisted against the lyrical vocal line. In ‘La messagère’ Fauré reverts to the ‘normal’ union between voice and piano, though there is an ebb and flow quite unlike the uninterrupted fury of much of the young Fauré’s writing. In ‘Je me poserai sur ton coeur’ the weight of the often-syncopated accompaniment underlines the imagery of a bird landing on the ocean in this puzzling poem in which Verlaine transports us far from the garden of the title. Tynan reflects the musical growth which the composer has undergone in the gravitas of her approach to ‘Dans la nymphée’, the line initially almost stationary over the hymn-like chords of her partner before flowering briefly at the awakening of the sleeping princess. In this cycle rapture is always refined. There is a brief reversion to the old youthful excitement in ‘Il m’est cher, Amour, le bandeau’ before the shared solemnity of ‘Inscription sur le sable’. Here the rapport between singer and pianist is at its best, perfect and illuminating.
Cinq Mélodies ‘de Venise’ is probably best treated as five separate songs. Burnside’s bouncing flippancy in ‘Mandoline’ introduces some humour into what are largely serious songs. Intensity returns in ‘En sourdine’, depicting a stolen moment of love with an exquisite flowing accompaniment. Against this ‘Green’ and ‘A Clymène’ look forward musically; the latter unexpectedly betrays a noticeable beat in Tynan’s tone, which was hopefully just a blip on the day of recording. In ‘C’est l’extase’ Tynan is back to form, the creamy tone suggesting that the richness of Duparc’s vocal writing is also her territory. This highly recommendable release is excellently recorded and presented with texts and translations.

 

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