BORDES Mélodies. Piano Works • Sophie Marin-Degor (sop1); Jean-Sébastien Bou (bar2); François-René Duchable (pn3) • TIMPANI 1C1196 (68:47 Text and Translation)
1,3Le Son du cor. Read more class="SUPER12">1,3Promenade matinale. 1,3Paysage vert. 1,3Épithalame. 1,3Sur un vieil air. 1,3La Bonne Chanson. 1,3Soleils couchants. 1,3Chanson d’automne. 2,3L’Heure du berger. 2,3Promenade sentimentale. 2,3Spleen. 2,3Triste, ô triste, était mon âme. 1,3Colloque sentimentale. 2,3Ô mes morts tristement nombreux. 2,3La Ronde des prisonniers. 2,3Dansons la gigue. 3Caprice à cinq temps. 3Quatre Fantaisies rythmiques
Charles Bordes is France’s best kept musical secret, though with this album his delights are secret no more. Bordes is remembered, if at all, as one of the founders, with d’Indy and Guilmant, of the Schola Cantorum which, before it became a teaching institution and rival to the Paris Conservatoire, was a choral society devoted to the revival of Renaissance music. From the mid 1890s neglected works by Palestrina, Victoria, Josquin, Lassus, and many others, were heard for the first time in over a century, not only in Paris but in the provinces and as far afield as Spain. In 1889 Bordes was commissioned by the French ministry of education to research and transcribe Basque music, a salient feature of which is the zortzico, a dance in the time of five, a rhythmic novelty also explored by Alkan and Pierné. All five of Bordes’s piano works employ it to engaging effect. The longest of them, the Caprice, plays five and a half minutes, the others, the Quatre Fantasies rhythmiques, each about half that, or less, which suggests a slightness belied by their pith and charm, tokening the riches frustrated by Bordes’s early death at 46 in 1909. Bordes possessed—or was possessed by—a rich affinity for the poetry of Verlaine. The 16 mélodies on disc are his complete Verlaine trove and amount to half of his total song output. Perhaps Graham Johnson will give us the rest, with the Verlaine settings again, and an in-depth conspectus of Bordes’s career and works, which include a winning Divertissement for trumpet and orchestra, the surefire Rapsodie Basque for piano and orchestra (a little brother, so to speak, to d’Indy’s Symphonie sur un chant montagnard française), and the Suite Basque in five movements for—flautists take note—flute and string quartet. That is, with this album we’re just beginning to discover Bordes.
A Franck pupil, Bordes responds to Verlaine with engaging melody and a deft harmonic palette—poignant, piquant, but never laid on for its own sake—divining the poet’s landscapes as they mirror memories of the beloved in alternations of joy and melancholy. (Among the latter, La Bonne chanson sets a single poem of the series from which Fauré selected his cycle of the same name.) Few things in the song literature are more beguiling than the brief Sur un vieil air in which a lover’s nostalgia and enchantment mingle as the girl at the piano is overheard playing Martini’s Plaisir d’amour. Songs reflecting Verlaine’s prison experience—Ô mes morts tristement nombreux with a peculiar bittersweetness, La Ronde des prisonniers strutting ironic swagger—register despair in unforgettable ways. Spleen—“I’m tired of holly with varnished leaves. And shivering boxwood too, And the countryside’s infinity, All things, alas, but you”—affords a comedic portrait of amorous distraction, small but deftly, memorably teasing. Why is this appropriately male song given to Marin-Degor? Dansons la gigue, on the other hand, carries one along with its fake jollity until one grasps its bitter undertow of failed love. Bordes’s vocal works, by the way, were collated with the surviving manuscripts and seen through the Rouart-Lerolle press by Pierre de Bréville, also a Franck pupil and another prolific exponent of the mélodie whose voluminous output likewise awaits discovery. Bordes’s trove is as distinctive in its way as Fauré’s Verlaine settings, occasionally striking more deeply, and worthy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Sophie Marin-Degor relies perhaps too much on a plucky attack winging the brilliance of her thin bright soprano, while Jean-Sébastien Bou’s pleasant light baritone skates over expressive riches, which make one long for the caressing savvy of the late Gérard Souzay. Either way, the interpreters bring Bordes closer than the single number recorded by Suzanne Danco in 1955 and the six offered by Jean-Paul Fouchécourt in 1996 on INA Mémoire Vive 262024, a fascinating, if sometimes maddening, collection of Verlaine settings. Duchable is hand-in-glove with the soloists and incandescent in the piano works. Timpani has afforded the artists a studio recording and an intimate capture attended by the merest hint of reverb. Taken all in all, here’s something which hit its mark, and will hit yours, too. An hour-plus of fresh fin de siècle opulence. A landmark issue, fetching and indispensable. Highest recommendation.