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RAVEL Chansons

Chansons espagnole, francaise, ecossaise, italienne, hebraique
Chanson du rouet
Noel des jouets
Deux melodies hebraiques Deux epigrammes de Clement Marot
Cinq melodies populaires grecques
Un grand sommeil noir
Manteau de fleurs
Si morne!
Don Quichotte it Dulcinee
Histoires naturelles
Ballade de la reine morte d'aimer
Trois Chansons
Ronsard a son ame
Les grands vents venus d'outren Sainte
Sur I'herbe
Vocalise - etude en forme de habanera
Chansons madecasses

Inva Mula-Tchako, Valérie Millot sops; Claire Brua mez; Laurent Naouri, Gérard Théruel bars; David Abramovitz pf

NAXOS 8.55417E [122 mins]

The lynchpin of this release is the pianist David Abramovitz, who has brought together a group of five singers who share out their delectable programme, in the same way as Graham Johnson in England pioneered with his Songmakers' Almanac.

Ravel's songs are exquisitely crafted and wonderfully various, so that it is easy to construct shapely programmes which hold attention through contrast. There may be better accounts of particular groups, no doubt, but this Naxos budget gathering is welcome and faithful to the scores; there are no serious let-downs.

The Greek popular songs are sung, unusually, in Greek, and a sixth is added to the familiar five; the Habanera is given in its original form as a vocalise. The first of the CDs has some early songs which are not often heard, and the second has the marvellous Histoires Naturelles, my particular favourites of all, settings of dead-pan prose about realities of animal life, cutting down to size the posturing of swan and peacock, but not excluding the 'rare emotion' of seeing a kingfisher perched momentarily on a fishing rod. The Songs of Madegascar, sung magnificently by Claire Brua, bring in flute and cello to create an exotic orientalist picture, finishing the whole collection with the marvellous throw-away line "Allez, et preparez le repas".

We are told by Keith Anderson that there are some 39 Ravel songs; Naxos has assembled 41 here, so this is presumably an integrale recording. Not all of them are covered by the notes, nor in the order they appear. It would have been helpful, for easier reference in the dense text, if Naxos identified them in bold instead of italics, as in the track listing.

The original texts, essential for proper listening, are provided with English translations; all credit to Naxos. A useful collection, recommended even if you have some Ravel songs in your collection already.

In February 2005 I have returned to this collection, reviewed above March 2003, taking into account Roger Nicols' expert and critical review of it in Gramophone.

Whilst agreeing with him that Claire Brua and Laurent Naouri are outstanding, I was however generally happy to take it that the various French singers were doing their best on the day, and found thisset again a welcome reminder of many of my favourites songs in the French repertoire, which include the unique Histoires Naturelles and several others which my son Simon and I studied together whilst I was helping him to develop his wide ranging recorded repertoire.

Nicols thinks it is a nearly-complete intégrale of Ravel songs (Trois poèmes de Mallarmé are missing) but does not so readily accept my view that it is a splendid bargain for readers who haven't discovered the variety, alongside instant personal recognisability, of this composer's style from early to late. There is no other complete Ravel songs on sale, and I cannot easily think of another composer for whom it is so rewarding to hear the song output all together. A considerable number of them were unknown to me, each one well worth making its acquaintance. At the end it is Ravel the song writer who is celebrated, rather than it being a platform for different singers

Those who insist on having "the best" irrespective of cost and easy availability will of course want other recordings, and the field of French chansons is a rich one in recorded history, but for the general collector these will suffice well as a start, and Naxos puts us in their debt once again.


© Peter Grahame Woolf