The complete Fauré songs require four CDs, and the question arises as how best to programme them. Neither the Hyperion Schubert Edition nor the Schumann (nearly 50 CDs between them) has attempted a chronological approach. Each of those lieder programmes has been issued one at a time. The Ameling–Souzay–Baldwin complete Fauré songs on French EMI – a set now thirty years old – was issued in a new chronological order established by the great Fauré scholar Jean-Michel Nectoux. This box contained ten sumptuous LP sides; there were thus nine opportunities for musical and mental punctuation in listening to the composer’s complete mélodie output at home. It does not help that Fauré’s creative life subdivides into three, rather than four, periods. In a recording presented in chronological terms the first one and a quarter CDs would have to be given over to the composer’s early works. These songs are charming, always interesting, indeed they are often much more than that; but the Fauré connoisseur might consider them too lightweight to be heard all at once as they do not represent this composer at his apogee. On the other hand the masterly cycles of the composer’s later years (another one and a quarter CDs perhaps) can intimidate the music-lover who prefers Fauré at his more conventionally lyrical and accessible. For the works that most frequently appear in song recitals one must explore the mélodies of the middle period. It would not even be possible to extrapolate the ‘popular’ Fauré on to a single chronological disc: the towering presence of La bonne chanson would confound any such asset stripping. One has to weigh the undeniable intellectual satisfaction of chronology, hearing each song as it passes by in its correct sequence, with the more relaxed pleasure of listening to a well-chosen group of songs – with texts that are juxtaposed for a deeper reason than chronological happenstance. Our aim here is to provide repertoire diversity while retaining chronology within each individual disc issue. In the first volume the theme is Au bord de l’eau , both the title of a famous mélodie , and a reminder how fascinated Fauré was with aquatic and nautical subjects. Indeed, this song was so celebrated that it became a nickname – one of Duparc’s letters to its composer began with the words ‘Mon cher bord de l’eau’. Like Schubert, Fauré was drawn to the musical possibilities of water and its movement (no one else could approach the diversity of his thirteen barcarolles). Like Schubert there is cosmic aspect to Fauré’s depiction of various aspects of sea, river and lake. The three subsequent recitals will be arranged under similarly broad themes that will take the listener chronologically through the composer’s songs, each programme containing examples of the three styles that, very broadly speaking, characterize this songwriter: the young salon charmer, the mature master with a tendency to ever-deepening musical experiments, and the inscrutable sage whose music remains as challenging as any written in the twentieth century. Each of the four instalments of the series will chart Fauré’s progress from youth to old age from a different angle, and with different repertoire. Taken together these discs will comprise an intégrale of the composer’s mélodies . It is the breadth of these journeys, and the variegated terrain through which they pass, that underlines the greatness of this particular composer and his genius for continual metamorphosis.
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