Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cuénod’s distinctive high tenor from 1952.
I’ve never reviewed a disc by an older living artist. At the time of writing Hugues Cuénod is still alive. This amazing centenarian, born in 1902, must also be one of the oldest to have entered into a civil union, which he did last year with his partner in Switzerland where he lives in the Château de Lully.
How pleasant therefore to welcome back to the discographic fold the fruits of these two Lyrichord discs made in 1952. Times come and times go and each generation reinvents in its own image the music of the past - and with dogmatism or with flexibility celebrates it. I prefer pragmatism myself, and a wide variety of approaches, none mutually
exclusive. This applies to recordings from the past as much as today – and few more so than by Cuénod whose high tenor is so distinctive a feature of this repertoire; one thinks in particular of his splendid contribution to the pre-War François Couperin set of the Troisième Leçon de Ténèbres pour le Mecredy Saint with Jane Evrard directing in Paris in 1936 (Cascavelle VEL 3080 – a two disc set coupled with Mozart, Stravinsky and Delannoy; see review).
Here we have Elizabethan Song and he casts his distinctive timbre and fine pronunciation on this repertoire as well, abetted by the superior harpsichord playing of Claude Jean Chiasson, who sounds rather Landowska inspired in his playing, notably in the solo outings such as John Bull’s Galiardo. But for Cuénod everything is light and bright in When Laura Smiles and in the pithier and prettier songs generally, the majority. We can perhaps best appreciate the salient qualities of Cuénod’s voice in Pilkington’s Underneath a Cypress Tree – its characteristic warmth of utterance, fast vibrato, command of language and diction, ease of phrasing, rather limited compass. The very particular and personal nature of his vibrato could sometimes lead to a rather tremulous delivery, which had its charm as well, though not everyone appreciated it; try Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes. One of the most comprehensively successful performances is of Dowland’s Now, O Now, I Needs Must Part which is a beautiful song well suited to the plaintive and plastic limpidity of Cuénod’s voice.
The ‘Rameau’ excerpts are with some equally fine colleagues - Robert Brink (violin), Alfred Zighera (viola da gamba) and Daniel Pinkham (harpsichord and director). We now know – but only fairly recently – that Diane et Acté on is not by Rameau but by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier; Lyrichord’s disc was pressed this year but the latest research hasn’t been assimilated into the booklet notes. These excerpts are rather hollowly recorded but I enjoyed them in particular for the contributions of the string players.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
When Laura smiles by Philip Rosseter
Claude Jean Chiasson (Harpsichord),
Hugues Cuénod (Tenor)
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