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MILHAUD Alissa / L'Amour Chante / Poemes Juifs

Carole Farley with John Constable

Naxos 8.572298 [TT: 72 mins]

This selection of songs by one of the most prolific of all 20th C composers is a welcome step in a thorough revaluation which Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) richly deserves; rather as his contemporary, Martinu, has been receiving through musicians who are determined that their recordings should not just duplicate canonic favourites.

Carole Farley (a famous Lulu in her younger days) is known to me through her dedication to the vocal music of Ned Rorem (see our review of her 2005 Wigmore Hall recital, also with John Constable).

I have a vivid memory of the ageing Milhaud at the Royal College of Music, conducting student quartets in his String Octet after they had played separately the two quartets which comprise it... That tour de force can be heard both ways in the desirable intégrale of Milhaud's string quartets, which we reviewed.

Here are three song cycles from across Milhaud's long life. They are strongly contrasted. Alissa, Op. 9 (1913/31) tells of a love between cousins, which became a short Gide novel. Alissa(1964), Op. 409 (1964) is a subtle setting of love poems by different poets, all with metaphysical content. These are all introduced, with great learning, by the indefatigable Robert Matthew Walker (who has recently taken on the editorship of Musical Opinion and The Organ). He provides not only full commentaries, but also his own translations from the French of Alissa and L'amour chante. Copyright obstacles prevented Naxos from giving the texts of Poemes juifs, Op. 34, but help is readily at hand in Emily Ezust's cornucopia of Art Songs Texts, with the original French and English translations to easily print out.

These recordings of 1992 (previously marketed by ASV) are more than serviceable. Carole Farley may be a little shrill occasionally to some tastes, but this is a valuable product of her partnership with John Constable, better known perhaps to Londoners as the imperturbable pianist of London Sinfonietta.

Recommended as an essential purchase to all collectors of French song.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Messiaen - Poèmes pour Mi

Les Offrandes oubliées (1930)
Un Sourire (1989)
Poèmes pour Mi, books 1 & 2 (complete - Version for soprano and orchestra

Anne Schwanewilms (soprano)
Orchestre National de Lyon/Jun Märkl

Naxos 8572174

A warning about the main work on this disc.

Whereas two orchestral works, Messiaen's first and one of his last (A smile for the Mozart bicentenary 1991) are given excellent performances, well recorded, the main work, which I anticipated eagerly, is presented without texts in French, let alone translations.

Neither are these to be found on Naxos's website nor on Emily Ezust's so generous website. The counter-productive tyranny of some copyright holders has a destructive influence on the wider dissemination of important recordings of which, I opine, this (with a favourite singer of ours) is one. But I cannot recommend its purchase to our readers.

I have personally been bedevilled by apparently insurmountable copyright problems in efforts to have re-released on CD some fine LPs with which I was associated...