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Francois Le Roux Masterclass

Fauré, Debussy, and Poulenc songs

Guildhall School of Music and Drama (City of London Festival) 5 July 2007

 

Emilie Bregon soprano / Joel Harder piano - Fauré Chant d'automne

Lucy Mervick soprano / Lara Dodds-Eden piano Poulenc La dame de Monte Carlo

Gary Griffiths baritone / Roger Moseley piano -  Poulenc Couplets Bachiques: Chanson a boire

Cassandra White soprano / Roger Moseley piano Debussy Beau soir;  Poulenc - Paganini

Rhona McKail soprano / Roger Moseley piano Poulenc Il vole;  Mon cadaver est doux comme un gant

Jonathan Sells baritone / Roger Moseley piano Debussy Harmonie du soir;  Recueillement

 

It is hard to imagine anyone better qualified than Francois Le Roux to lead a masterclass on French Song. His own landmark recordings with pianist Jeff Cohen (kindly loaned to me by the Editor) have become scarce, collectable items since the demise of REM Editions *, but fortunately those with Graham Johnson ** are still current from Hyperion. His knowledge extends beyond the music to the context in which each song was composed, and to the heart of the poems to which they are set.

 

Working with each of the singers in turn he drew out the essence and significance of each piece. The pianists gave sterling support, Roger Moseley considerable virtuosity in some of the harder accompaniments, and they were brought into the teaching. The atmosphere was relaxed and genial, and Le Roux's smile (illustrated), signifying pleasure in what he was hearing, was pervasive.

Without attempting to quote his advice verbatim, I have tried to record some of the remarks that I found particularly illuminating, and thus to give the reader a flavour of the occasion.

 

General points such as, when you start a song do something to make an entrance. Prepare the audience for a change in harmony, they have to understand what is happening. Don't forget to use the consonants when you can put some music into them. Have a clear picture of what you want the audience to see in the narrative, and make sure your interpretation is big enough for them to follow. Don't stand too still whilst you are singing - use a bit of movement. If a cycle will use a lot of energy, don't be tempted to put it at the beginning of your programme.

 

He spoke of each composer as though he was a personal friend. When singing Fauré try to think of yourself as a solo instrument, making the phrasing wide.

 

Debussy is the most literary of all French composer. He is never self indulgent, always totally immersed in the words and at the same time totally musical. There is a great humanity in his music which makes it so demanding, and that is what makes Pelleas such a great opera you can never get bored with it as it is all a question of interpretation. ***

 

Poulenc knew well his singers that he was writing for, and left them to make a lot of decisions, such as where to breathe. Always pay attention to the title of his cycles, they are the fundamental key. Poulenc was never at ease writing for the violin, but he used a lot of poems which talk of violins. Watch out for his play on words with several meanings; be clear how you want them to be understood.

 

His thoughts on Poulenc's monologue La dame de Monte Carlo were especially interesting. He explained that although we don't know who she was, Cocteau would certainly have had a specific individual in mind when he wrote the words. The piano introduction sets the scene, it is almost a walk, but we can hear her staggering on her feet - she is ill, perhaps in need of drugs, close to the end. It is more than age, she is mad, and the differences in tempo and volume are evidence of her madness. The singer should make it very varied, make each new thought an event and play with the silences as well. Don't make it pitiful, dangerous perhaps become the character.

 

After a short break singers and audience reconvened for a short concert presentation of the songs. Had all the points been taken on board? Not all, but a noticeable step forward and enough to satisfy the maestro. We felt that it would be helpful for the participants for the class to have been recorded?

 

Serena Fenwick

 

* Duparc REM No 311049; Hahn REM No 311069; Fauré Rem No 311175

** Saint-Saens Hyperion CDA 66856; Severac CDA 66983; Durey CDA 67257

*** Pelleas et Melisande (with Francois Le Roux as Pelleas), Vienna Phil, cond Abbado DGG 435 344-2