Alice Coote / Graham Johnson

L' Heure Exquise: A French Songbook

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The French song repertory, so ably represented here by mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, shows remarkable continuity over the near-century represented by the works on this album. Tonally the songs very early on used an extended-harmony idiom that toward the Belle Epoque readily assimilated popular influences, and the mood is nicely summed up in a quotation from Francis Poulenc included in the booklet: "Our composers too write profound music, but when they do, it is leavened with that lightness of spirit without which life would be unendurable." The program here is only loosely organized, with lightly melancholy songs in the first part of the program giving way to more painful expressions before returning to Poulenc, with whom the program began. The focus is on Coote, whose rich, almost smoky, mezzo grabs you from the first notes. She has a real feel for the material, and she is able to lighten her tone effectively for miniatures like Poulenc's Voyage à Paris ("that once upon a time love must have created") and bulking up for likes of Le spectre de la rose from Berlioz's Les Nuits d'été. A somewhat more intimate atmosphere than that of London's All Saints Church would have enhanced the final product, but this is a strong candidate for a French song collection cornerstone.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Léocadia, FP 106
1 3:46
Chansons grises
2 2:26
Douze Rondels
3 2:50
4 2:32
5 4:26
6 1:56
Mélodies (6), for voice and piano
7 4:44
8 4:10
9 1:38
Les nuits d'été, Op. 7
10 6:11
11 4:11
Mélodies (6), for voice and piano
12 2:50
13 4:56
14 4:33
Trois chansons de France, L 115
15 2:25
Les feuilles blessées
16 2:41
17 3:54
18 3:20
Quatre mélodies, Op. 22
19 3:17
Banalités, FP 107
20 0:57
21 1:44
22 1:50
Calligrammes, FP 140
23 3:02
blue highlight denotes track pick