Sung as if each song is a precious and unique jewel.
What must it be like, first discovering and then learning songs by an ancestor whose name, in musical circles anyway has utterly vanished without a trace. That is what Charlotte de Rothschild has done and what a voyage of discovery it has been for her … and for the listener. Some of the songs were published by Durand in Mathilde’s lifetime but others have emerged from a discovery made in a family loft.
The first disc is devoted to settings in German. Mathilde had lived in Frankfurt for several years with her husband. Six charming Schumann-esque pieces open the programme. These were published in 1876. Other groups come later on the disc - those of 1897 in a very similar style. There’s also a group put together from 1885. Three settings of Heinrich Heine come in this first publication. Of these the one that especially took my fancy was
, a setting of a folksong text. It is particularly touching in its melody line with its repetition of ‘Do not weep’. Also quite moving was the following
Du bist wie eine Blume
. Schubert is never far away, or Carl Loewe, but the more modern world of Wolf and Wagner passes Mathilde by.
She sets a wide range of poets. Especially touching is
O sage nicht
- ‘O do not say that love dies away like a dream’. Here the harmony is more probing and interesting and the word setting is especially affecting. Her favourite subject matter includes love - lost or found, and the natural world and landscape. These are well summarised in the lovely song
Komm! Geh mit mir in’s Waldergrün
. She sometimes misses the emotional mark of a poem; one such is
My beautiful love is dead’
The booklet notes which fascinatingly recount the background to the de Rothschild family and its musical connections tell us that Chopin especially enjoyed visiting the family home. Indeed he taught Mathilde for a while when she was teenager. It is hardly surprising then that the two CDs are littered with occasional, quite short solo piano pieces - a
or two, a
and other romantic and dreamy salon pieces of great charm. Perhaps if she had written more for the piano Cécile Chaminade might have had some extra competition.
Mathilde was a real cosmopolitan by the standards of her time. She spoke at least three languages fluently and there are some songs in English. However, CD 2 is devoted to French Mélodies. These are not necessarily French in the musical style of Chabrier, Bizet, Chausson or even early Debussy but are settings of some of the more popular poems of the day by poets like Victor Hugo or Théophile Gautier. In fact the most famous of the songs,
Si vous n’avez rien a me dire
, the one which made her name is, rather unfortunately not recorded here. This is something of an error. Another Hugo setting, equally enchanting, is
Si mes vers avaient des ailes
, as is
Enfant rêve encore
In some songs the dance rhythms of Paris and Offenbach (as in
) are not that far away and in the lovely
Bellini’s cadential melismas are recalled. Mathilde had met or knew well many of the leading composers of the day including Spontini and Meyerbeer. She was also well versed in the operettas of the time. The first song of CD 2,
Romance, parle moi
is sentimental but has a memorable and wide-ranging melody. Another light-headed charmer is
C'était en Avril
, a setting of a good-natured poem by Pailleron. Also, what can be a more moving and beautifully arched melody than in
Vous avez beau fair et beau dire
; likewise in
Je n’ose pas
perfect miniatures both.
There is a difference of style between the German and French settings but mostly a consistent language is at work. Although it may cloy a little at times it is always perfectly of itself and is utterly persuasive.
Adrian Farmer is no mere accompanist although often the piano parts simply support the voice. On other occasions they are quite dominant and use the whole keyboard with sweeping arpeggio figures, melodies doubled in the right-hand and some rich and unexpected harmonic writing. Just to take two contrasting examples, in
, a light almost luminous accompaniment adds more than the sum of its parts to the more monochrome vocal line. In the German song,
we move from rippling lake accompaniment to a dark, Schumannesque change to homophony for the remembrance of the dead lover. Farmer is utterly part of the duo and adds character where it is most needed and shows a strong understanding of style and nuance.
The discs come with a complex but fascinating history of the de Rothschilds - especially of those in the early 20
century - by Charlotte herself. There is also a useful and detailed commentary on ‘The Musical Voices of Mathilde de Rothschild’ by a very sympathetic Francesco Izzo. Each of these fifty-odd songs is sung with much artistry as if each is a precious and unique jewel. All of the texts are supplied in a separate booklet and have been excellently translated by various hands. The recording is ideal:
intimate but spacious.
-- Gary Higginson, MusicWeb International