Tuesday 8 December 2015

Strong performances of Lalo’s complete songs from baritone, Tassis Christoyannis and pianist, Jeff Cohen on a new release from Aparte

French composer Édouard-Victoire-Antoine Lalo (1823-1892) will be forever remembered for his Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra written in 1874 for famous virtuoso, Pablo de Sarasate. However, his compositional output, whilst not huge, was varied covering chamber music, many orchestral works including concertos and a symphony, as well as three operas and two ballets.

Lalo also wrote a good number of songs all of which have been recorded by baritone, Tassis Christoyannis www.amo-massis.eu/artists/tassis-christoyannis/biography  and pianist, Jeff Cohen http://jeffcohen.weebly.com  on a two disc set from Aparte www.apartemusic.com

L'Ombre de Dieu (The Shadow of God) (1848), a setting of a text by Alfred Lehugeur, opens with an attractive little rhythmic piano theme from Jeff Cohen before Tassis Christoyannis enters with his strong, rich baritone voice bringing a lovely sweep to the vocal part. This song has the lighter feel of a French operatic piece.

It is Antoine Flobert who has provided the text for Adieu au desert (Farewell to the Desert) (1848) which has a gentle, relaxed piano opening, beautifully realised by Cohen with Christoyannis bringing varied dynamics and emotion.

Six Romances populaires de Pierre-Jean de Béranger open with La Pauvre Femme (The Poor Woman) where Lalo again provides a rather rhythmic, staccato piano part before Christoyannis carefully and beautifully shapes this rather sentimental text, achieving an impressive result.  There is a lovely flowing, yet rhythmically pointed, piano part to Beaucoup d'amour (So Much Love) where this baritone brings a long breathed, wonderfully controlled phrasing. Le Suicide is very finely characterised with superb vocal control through moments of intense feeling in an impressive performance of this more deeply felt song.

Si j'étais un petit oiseau (If I Were a Little Bird) brings a rippling piano motif that occurs throughout with Christoyannis bringing just the right touch to this charming song. In Les Petits Coups (The Little Gulps) Lalo provides a rather four square piano accompaniment but Christoyannis finds all the wry humour in this setting. Le Vieux Vagabond (The Old Vagabond) opens with a more serious feel for both piano and baritone, beautifully done with subtle changes in tension and passion, Christoyannis bringing a real operatic command.

Le Novice, Op. 5 is a setting of a text by Hippolyte Stupuy and has a gentle, slow opening for the piano before this baritone brings a gentle atmospheric feeling. This song rises in dynamics and feeling through passages of varying emotion with some intensely felt moments for the piano, both bringing out all the feeling of this text.

The second disc commences with Six Mélodies, Op. 17 (1856), all settings of texts by Victor Hugo. Tassis Christoyannis brings moments of real power to the rhythmically buoyant Guitare (Guitar), showing what a very fine voice he has, in this rather attractive song. Puisqu'ici-bas toute âme (Since down here, every soul) is finely characterised, full of subtle, finely controlled emotion before the very fine L'Aube naît (Daybreak arrives) where both pianist and baritone bring much sustained feeling to the carefully nuanced emotion.

There are some lovely piano rhythms and phrases that give a lovely lift to Dieu qui sourit et qui donne (God, who smiles and who provides) with Christoyannis rising high before some lovely hushed moments, finely controlled. The gentle Oh ! quand je dors (Oh! Whilst I am asleep) rises in subtle feeling only to find its quite reflective nature.  This fine song is beautifully done. Amis, vive l'orgie (My friends, long live the bacchanalia) is full of life and energy, bringing out Christoyannis’ fine flexibility yet always retaining a feel for the text. There is some fine fluent accompaniment from Cohen in the strong piano part.

Chanson à boire (Drinking Song) has a link to Amis, vive l'orgie in that they are both from Victor Hugo’s play Lucrèce Borgia. It is another buoyant, immensely enjoyable song full of fun and vigour. Ballade à la lune (Ballad to the Moon) is a surprisingly lively song until one follows the later part of Alfred de Musset’s text. Both artists bring much finely controlled feeling.

Trois Mélodies sur des poèms d’Alfred de Musset opens with a quiet, finely shaped A une fleur (To a Flower) with Christoyannis bringing a gentle sense of intense feeling. The spirits are raised with a finely constructed Chanson de Barberine (Song of Barberine), full of rhythmic pulse, finely shaped by this baritone and with much beautifully controlled passion and some superb hushed moments. La Zuecca (The Zuecca) has a firm rhythmic bounce pointed up by Jeff Cohen with Tassis Christoyannis’ fine voice exquisitely controlled through the varying dynamics and emotion.

Aubade (1872) is a gently rolling song with a gentle pulse, Christoyannis bringing such fine control.

Trois Mélodies brings a mixture of settings, first La Fenaison (Haymaking) a setting of texts under a pseudonym Stella, believed to be the nickname of an English aristocrat Penelope Devereaux (d. 1607). It is a buoyant song, receiving a subtly nuanced performance here. Souvenir (Memory) is another Victor Hugo setting with a gently felt piano opening before this baritone provides a beautifully delivered performance, perfectly paced with fine control; quite lovely. There is an equally gentle L'Esclave (The Slave Girl) with more fine control and sensitive restrained emotion in this setting of texts by Théophile Gautier.

Cinq Lieder (1879) opens with Prière de l'enfant à son réveil (The Child’s Prayer on Awakening) with a text by Alphonse de Lamartine, that rises from a gentle opening full of feeling, Christoyannis exceptional in his fine emotional control of this song. Armand Silvestre provides the text for the stormy À celle qui part (To she who is departing), that opens with a florid descending piano motif in a song that is full of power and strength, conjuring up the stormy nature of the verses.

Tristesse (Sadness), with words again by Armand Silvestre has a melancholy, quiet, slow opening for piano beautifully shaped by Cohen.  When Christoyannis enters he brings a wonderfully felt emotion. The Alphonse de Lamartine setting, Viens ! (Come!) picks up the pace in a song that brings many varied tempi and dynamics all brought out finely by these two artists. La Chanson de l'alouette (The Song of the Lark) sets words by Victor de Laprade. It has a lovely delicate, rhythmic piano part with this baritone bringing a joyful, infectious quality.

Oboist Johannes Grosso joins Tassis Christoyannis and Jeff Cohen in the Albert Delpit, Le Chant Breton (Breton Song). The oboe opens plaintively before the piano gently and tentatively takes over. The oboe returns before baritone, piano and oboe lead forward in this rather wonderful song, full of intense feeling and a lovely French, or perhaps I should say Breton, atmosphere.

Marine has a gentle piano opening with Christoyannis bringing more exquisite control and feeling to this André Theuriet setting, rising to moments of great power and passion. André Theuriet also provides the text for the final song Le Rouge-gorge (Robin Redbreast) that has a lovely skittish little piano opening before Christoyannis provides a beautifully phrased performance, all the while the piano adding a rhythmic bird like accompaniment.

These songs cover a wide range, some deep and emotional, operatic passion, others light and joyful but full of Gallic charm. Tassis Christoyannis has a remarkably fine voice that lifts even the most lightweight of songs. In the best of these songs he brings a power and depth that is quite wonderful. Pianist, Jeff Cohen is more than a mere accompanist, bringing a sensitivity that helps lift these songs. 

They receive a very fine recording and there are useful booklet notes as well as full texts and English translations. It is good to have all of Lalo’s songs brought together in such strong performances.

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