Notes and Editorial Reviews
Poème de l’amour. Psyché. La Ballade du désespéré
Michael Bundy (bar); Jeremy Filsell (pn)
NAXOS 8.572346 (62:45
Louis Vierne (1870–1937) is most well known to us as an organist and organ composer; this is the second disc of his songs that I have reviewed for
and it has become clear that he was a major composer in this genre. In
29: 5 I reviewed a Deuxelles disc with soprano Rachel Santesso, and said “Vierne’s musical imagination is vivid, his melodic inspiration highly inventive, and his skill at shaping these songs into just the right lengths is impeccable.” You can apply that again to this Naxos recording, which does not duplicate anything from the earlier disc.
The major work here is a cycle of 15 songs,
Le Poème de l’amour
. Vierne’s life was an extraordinarily tragic one. He became blind from glaucoma; his one marriage ended in divorce (which, as an observant Catholic, denied him the right to marry again, despite the fact that it was his wife who was adulterous and bore an illegitimate child); his one other serious love affair ended unhappily; many of his friends and colleagues were killed in the First World War, as was his brother and one of his two sons (the other died in early childhood). Thus this cycle, perhaps his most significant expression of his inner rage and heartbreak, is not at all a happy work. These songs, for the most part, deal with betrayal, frustration, the pointlessness of life. There are occasional hints of sunshine, but in the end the feeling is one of a deep sadness. The final song describes mothers who have lost their sailor-sons to the sea, hurling rocks into the water to express their rage. The songs in this cycle are not what one would call “tuneful” in the traditional, hummable sense of that word. But they are gripping—they take you inside their bleak world and do not let you go.
is a more optimistic, hopeful piece, but the extended
Ballade du désespéré
is just what its title would lead you to believe. Vierne’s strong harmonic imagination is what gives these songs their life—that and his deeply moving ability to touch the listener with a tragic vision that never sinks to self pity. The more I listen to this disc, the more I admire the songs.
The performances are very good. Michael Bundy occasionally strains for a top note, but he clearly believes in these songs and conveys the desperation of the music vividly, and pianist Jeremy Filsell is right with him all the way. Naxos’s sound is very natural and the piano-voice balance is fine. I understand that some compromises have to be made to make Naxos’s low prices realistic, but I do wish that they would include texts and translations in the booklet. They do make them available online, but when you print them out you have an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper that doesn’t fit on your CD shelves easily. Still, having reviewed too many discs of rare song repertoire that provided no texts at all, Naxos deserves praise for at least giving us the possibility. And even moreso for making available repertoire of this nature in excellent performances. This is a very important disc.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
Psyché, Op. 33 by Louis Vierne
Michael Bundy (Baritone),
Jeremy Filsell (Piano)
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