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When listening to music recorded by and released under the
Hyperion label, reading the copious liner notes accompanying
the discs is an additional task, yet also a glorious opportunity.
A case in point were the scholarly essays written by
Graham Johnson for “The Songs of Ernest Chausson,” a two-CD
set containing his entire oeuvre of published songs, as well as
five transcriptions from manuscript sources.

As part of Hyperion’s “French Song Edition,” these
performances are complimented by Johnson’s 83-page
booklet which ends with a brief discussion of his musical
pedigree and credentials, and printed biographies of the singers.

An extremely well read and cultured individual,
Chausson (1855-1899) composed these 43 songs between
1878 and 1898, setting them to poetry from
Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), Paul Verlaine (1844-1896),
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), and Théophile Gautier
(1811-1872), among others. I found the music to be quite
attractive, possessing a world-weary, languid character which
was typical of the fin de siècle.

The three soloists featured on these recordings were
soprano Felicity Lott, mezzo-soprano Ann Murray and
baritone Chris Pedro Trakas. “La Mist,” set from poetry by
Théodore de Banville (1823-1891) and “Le réveil,” written
by Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) each required two voices,
and soprano Geraldine McCreevy added her talents to the mix.
The most recent composition in the set was “Chanson perpétuelle,”
from the poetry of Charles Cros (1842-1888). In addition to
the singers, this final track featured the Chilingerian String
Quartet.  As if his aforementioned scholarship wasn’t
enough, Graham Johnson (1950 – ) demonstrated his
pianistic skills.

I don’t recall having heard any of these “mélodies” before.
Therefore, my current unfamiliarity with this repertoire
precludes an authoritative critique of the performance styles.
I can’t honestly determine if these were outstanding
interpretations, let alone “definitive” ones. At the very least,
they sounded pretty darn good to these ears. Different voices
are obviously going to appeal to different listeners in
different ways. I trust that Johnson carefully
considered which singers and musicians would provide the
best performances. Quite frankly, that’s good enough for me!

Each of these discs has a running time of 65 minutes. A minor
quibble concerns some errors regarding dates on pages four,
five and 16 of the booklet, which weren’t corrected. However,
from a musicological standpoint, I can heartily recommend
this set, as I consider it to be a veritable “course” in Chausson’s
songs, deserving the highest praise.

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