Green: MÈlodies franÁaises sur des poËmes de Verlaine

“Et leur chanson se mÍle au clair de lune.” Coutertenor Philippe
Jaroussky sings these words, which translate to “and their song mingles with
the moonlight,” no fewer than three times on his new recording, Green:
MÈlodies franÁaises sur des poËmes de Verlaine
. The strongest aspect of
the ambitious and rewarding CD is its offering of multiple composers’
interpretations of the symbolist poetry of Paul Verlaine, such as his 1869
Clair de lune. Jaroussky sings versions of this song by Claude
Debussy, Gabriel FaurÈ, and Jozef Zygmunt Szulc, all three of which feature
vocal and instrumental melodies wending around each other, worrying yet
hopeful, and evoking the “birds dreaming in the trees” and the “fountains
sobbing with ecstasy.” The Debussy version, transcribed for the Quatour
EbËne by JÈrÙme Ducros, features a cello swirling around and under the piano
and voice. Debussy set several Verlaine poems to music, beginning at age 19,
and his symbolist approach is here made palpable as Jaroussky’s plush vowels
ebb and flow like the moonlight’s reflection in receding waves and ripples of
water. All three works were composed around the turn of the twentieth century,
and are set to the same three stanzas of poetry, yet Jaroussky brings out the
three contrasting compositional interpretations with poise.

These differing versions of Clair de lune are only three of the 43
songs on Jaroussky’s recent recording, the first since his
2009 Opium, which also tackled the broad range in French song, and
which also co-starred Ducros as his tireless pianist-accompanist. These
mÈlodies franÁaises are not meant for countertenor, but Jaroussky
states that “this repertoire has always been a secret passion of mine” and
wonders, “why not venture into other musical worlds if we feel they are
suited to our voices?” He carefully selected a wide range of examples,
including not just multiple musicalizations of the same texts and imagery (as
with Clair de lune), but also varying genres and even eras, with the
composers’ death dates ranging from 1894 (Emmanual Chabrier) to 2001 (Charles
Trenet). The overwhelming number of songs at first seems to be arranged in a
haphazard order before one realizes that Jaroussky is simply giving us the
fullest and richest portrait of Verlaine’s poetry. Despite sharing similar
literary inclinations, the composers’ soundscapes range from the romantic to
the modernistic to the chanson -esque, and the recording jumps along
in an unpredictable sequence, from the melancholy to the jolly to the
impressionistic. Jaroussky and Ducros, occasionally joined by the Quatour
EbËne as well, prove skillful in navigating the range in sounds, though the
numerous (nine of the 43) songs by Debussy are the most vivid, and

Debussy, the symbolist composer who was so drawn to Verlaine from such a
young age, also composed music for Green, the title song of the
recording and another poem weighing heavy with symbolism, as in lines like
“the morning wind freezes on my forehead”. Caplet, mostly known now as an
orchestrator of Debussy, filled his own setting of Green with
staggered, staggering melodies and a disjointed musing between the piano and
voice. All three—Debussy’s and Caplet’s as well as FaurÈ’s
version—ripple throughout with widening, broadening strokes of sound and
color. Despite being the title song, however, Green is not the most
frequently-interpreted: La lune blanche andIl pleure dans mon
are represented no fewer than four times each on Jaroussky’s
recording. Charles Koechlin’s rendition of Il pleure dans mon coeur
skates the edge of melodrama, with curious chords popping in and preventing
excessive trudgery, while Florent Schmitt’s Il pleure dans mon coeur
is a bit simpler and more consoling. Yet again, though, the Debussy and FaurÈ
versions are truly vivid and the most expertly-delivered by Jaroussky and
Ducros. The melancholy mood is felt rather than told, with the piano notes
dissolving into tears in the rippling symbolism of Debussy’s version, and the
piano notes descending to a final chord of discontented sleep in FaurÈ’s.

The chansons offer a breath of fresh air from these distressing
examples or the more romantic sounds of composers like Poldowski and Massenet.
Slightly more upbeat songs like Charles Trenet’s Verlaine (Chanson
and Georges Brassens’s Colombine provide a glimpse
of an entirely different genre of mÈlodies franÁaises. Trenet’s
Verlaine, in contrast with Debussy’s symbolist Verlaine who swirls with
colors and emotions, is a real treat. Jaroussky’s voice melts over the
dancing strings and piano like chocolate sauce over a sundae, with the staccato
piano note at the end as the cherry on top. Other songs from later composers,
like the two interpretations of Un grand sommeil noir—one by Arthur
Honegger, the other by Edgard VarËse—contribute their own unique arrangement
of vowels, colors, and accompaniments, such as the spidery piano part climbing
and limping its way through Honegger’s Un grand sommeil noir. With
such breadth in theme and mood, the recording is clearly a labor of love, and
Jaroussky and Ducros bring sensitivity to each track. Just as each of the
composers crafted their own shade of Green, so the countertenor here
has created an entirely new take on the poetry of Verlaine, and one that leaves
a distinct impression upon each listening.

Rebecca S. Lentjes

image_description=Green: MÈlodies franÁaises sur des poËmes de Verlaine
product_title=Green: MÈlodies franÁaises sur des poËmes de Verlaine
product_by= Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor; Jerome Ducros, piano.
product_id=Erato 2564616693 [2CDs]