A fine, delicate infusion of bittersweetness and enchantment flavours this new compilation of Romantic art songs from pianist Julien LeBlanc and rising young Montreal-based soprano, Marianne Lambert. Selections span the evolution of turn of the century word painting with an emphasis on French and Spanish repertoire from early expression to post-war revival. Songs by Massenet, Bizet, Delibes and Barber share almost equal track space with near-forgotten former musical luminaries of the period. All pieces warrant a close listening.
Psyché, a lovely lament by pioneering Impressionist Émile Paladilhe, sung and played with great tenderness and emotion, gently sets the tone for all that is to follow.
The title work, Mélodies Passagères, an intensely evocative suite inspired by five discrete poems by symbolist Rainer Maria Rilke, reflects American neo-Romantic Samuel Barber’s penchant for French colour and harmony. This is very much LeBlanc’s preferred artistic terrain and he is supremely in his element here, partnering Lambert’s shimmering instrument with notable empathy and finesse.
The literary connection continues, segueing to composer/adventurer Maurice Delage’s Quatre poèmes hindous, a series of four haunting anecdotal sketches of India penned by various authors set to music of startling lyricism, more a journey into the realm of sensuality and sensation than an exploration of geography. Delage places huge demands on his soloist. The cadenza in Lahore: Un sapin isolé, the centrepiece of the set, is particularly remarkable, soaring, wheeling, weightless. Lambert thrillingly traces its ever-upwards flight.
Overt Spanish melodies and textures, for the most part historically assumed, characterize the second half of the album.
Preceded by a playful Iberian-accented air by Georges Bizet in pre-Carmen guise, text by Victor Hugo, Enrique Granados’ rather more melodically complex cycle of love songs, Canciones Amatorias, yields virtually endless opportunities for LeBlanc and Lambert to impress. Virtuosity is clearly at the forefront of the composer’s intentions from start to finish in this stormy seven piece salute to suffering and seduction. The piano weeps and thunders. Melisma and high notes fly. The effect is utterly disarming.
A pair of quasi operatic chansons espagnoles, Les Filles de Cadix by Léo Delibes and Nuit d’Espagne by Jules Massenet all but complete the listening experience leaving the final notes to legendary French-Canadian composer Calixa Lavallée. D’oublier tout, fors notre amour (“Forget everything except our love”), Lambert sings in Andalouse.
A comforting message in these exceptionally anxious times.
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Mélodies Passagères will be available as a digital download from Naxos, Apple Music and Spotify following the album’s official release on Friday, May 15. Marianne Lambert will host the launch on her Facebook page at 7:30 PM.