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Enchanté! The Great French Stars: 50 bonnes chansons 1926-1961



“Enchanté!” – we are delighted to welcome you Retrospective’s cavalcade of great French singing stars, from the 20s through to the early 60s. Here are 50 hand-picked recordings by those exotic entertainers who established the Gallic tradition of the popular chanson. Now all the most famous singing celebrities from the rich story of French cabaret are presented on two generously filled CDs.

Enchanté begins with long-legged, husky-voiced Mistinguett and one of the best-known Frenchmen in history: Maurice Chevalier, serenading Louise and Valentine in 1929. Among the early stars are Lucienne Boyer, the sensational Folies-Begères entertainer Joséphine Baker, Tino Rossi and, of course, the great Charles Trenet. Perhaps the odd man out (not French and didn’t sing) is Belgian guitar genius Django Reinhardt, the most original jazzman Europe has ever produced, represented here by his most famous compositions Nuages and Minor Swing.

Disc Two moves post-war to feature strongly the chanteuse who epitomises French cabaret singing, the inimitable ‘little sparrow’ Édith Piaf who sings six timeless classics. In her wake are such distinguished upholders of the tradition as Yves Montand, George Guétary, Georges Brassens, Charles Aznavour, Juliette Gréco and so many more. “Bonne écoute!”

Enchanté! The Great French Stars: 50 bonnes chansons 1926-1961


This is an excellent collection which once again reminds us of the sheer quality of so many of these singers and their classic material, and I should also mention the inclusion of a couple of instrumental classics, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly's NUAGES and MINOR SWING. Enchanté is the word.

- InTune

They are mostly of singers but not entirely; so, we hear various instrumentalists including ace accordionist Emile Vacher and Reinhardt and Grappelli whose style was once, in the 1970s, reached for on EMI LPs by Menuhin and Previn. There’s also Maurice Alexander's Sous les toits de Paris which we are reminded was used as a signature tune for a long defunct BBC radio programme French Cabaret. That presumably did for French chanson what the wonderful Robert Cushman did so intelligently for music theatre in Book, Music and Lyrics (Radio 3, 1970s into 1980s). Time to bring these things back or repeat them if they still exist in useable recordings.
Chevalier’s Louise is more French than his later versions though he sings in English and very forward. Both his tracks were recorded in New York on two consecutive days. The nasal yet seductive voice of Mistinguett is caught in her three tracks. Her duet in Je cherche un millionare is sweetly cosy and breathes up-close into your headphones or loudspeakers. One of the nice things about this set, for people with my very meagre knowledge of the genre, is to introduce so many unfamiliar names, Damia is seductive in Cest mon gigolo; likewise, Frehel's La Java Bleue. Lucienne Boyer 's Parlez moi d'amour has a music box intro to introduce her suavely shaped brand of seduction.

Josephine Baker was not French but well and truly adopted and her lightly New York accent in all three songs from the 1930 catch her in affecting torch-song mode. She is the centre of attention in Retrospective RTR4270. The Corsican roots of Tino Rossi are heard to great effect in his two songs which are underpinned by Hawaiian touches in Guitare d'amour. Down the vocal scale for Jean Sablon. You can understand why J’attendrai, recorded in 1939, proved irresistible and became the French song of WW2.
There are two breathy swing tracks from Reinhardt and Grappelli. Their Nuages has some spicy thunder-dark moments which are quite out of the popular highway They are more of a ‘byway’ and may yet catch the more classically attuned taste. We end CD 1 with the iconic La Mer from the aristocrat of lightly applied joy and nostalgia, Charles Trenet. The song is a triumph of all-conquering suave yearning and strangely melancholic seduction. Disc 2 launches with three Trenet songs from French films of the period 1938-43. The almost immanent Boum is from a 1938 film La Route Enchantée. He wrote many songs, as did quite a few of these singers. The three songs here are lightly breathed and virtuoso examples of grey feathery delight and charm. He sings with a lightly knowing manner. Resistance is futile - capitulation is the only option.
The six Piaf tracks present a singer whose voice could hardly be more of a contrast. Her rawly wrought vibrato and emotional vibrancy tipping over into abrasion are all there. Her two signature tracks can be heard: La Vie en Rose and Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.
Next, a singer who made it onto the international stage: Charles Aznavour. Armenian-born, he became a vibrant presence within France and, through two 1970s songs, outside France. Those two songs were: She and Old-Fashioned Way.

Perhaps your attention has been snagged by the sound-track of a commercial or by someone's "life-tracks" or Desert Island Disc choices. This is the way to take the next steps. No need to hesitate. At the very least you will be able to hold your own on the subject of French chansons when it next comes up. As a listening experience these two discs offer so much more. Rob Barnett, MusicWeb-International

The Retrospective label continues with "Enchanté!", A release of two CDs with fifty chansons of French singers from the mid twenties to early sixties. Edith Piaf married Jacques Pills, the ex-husband of Lucienne Boyer in 1952, who, with her seductive "Parlez moi d'amour", got the men off their feet and whose farewell song "Mon p'tit kaki" a year later by war would receive an extra charge. The sensational Folies-Begères singer Joséphine Baker was not French, but the three legendary Parisian recordings from 1930 get her sensual American accent. By the way, she was one of the few French artists on this issue who would participate in the resistance during the Second World War. Jacques Pills sings with Georges Tabet "Couchés dans le foin" from 1932, nine years before the marriage of Pills and Boyer. The song was composed by the Jewish Mireille Hartuch, who actively participated in underground activities against the Germans in World War II. She sings "Papa n'a pas voulu" from 1933. Van Lys Gauty unfortunately not the interesting song "Israel, va t'en" from 1934, in which she denounces the emerging anti-Semitism of the early 1930s, but "Le chaland qui passe" .

Then two songs by Corsican Tino Rossi and three by Jean Salon, of which "J’attendrai" from 1939 - based on the "Coro a bocca chiusa" from "Madama Butterfly" - became a war hit. CD1 concludes with the iconic "La mer" by Charles Trenet. Unfortunately his contribution has been split in two and CD2 opens with three earlier recordings of Trenet. The remaining chansons on CD2 are post-war. The incomparable Edith Piaf can be heard with its raw vibrato, abrasive and always emotionally fascinating in six classics, including "La vie en rose", "Milord" and "Non, je ne regrette rien". Yves Montand was discovered by Piaf and is present here with three early recordings.

Georges Brassens, Charles Aznavour and Juliette Gréco each sing two chansons, while Gréco's "Sous le ciel de Paris" makes up for Piaf's earlier version. The Belgian Jacques Brel of course sings "Ne me quitte pas" and Gilbert Bécaud finally the rising "Et maintenant". Of course, choices must be made for such a collection and important singers such as Yvette Guilbert, Berthe Sylva, Yvonne Printemps, Danielle Darrieux, Esther Lekain, Marie Dubas, Léo Marjane, Barbara and Serge Gainsbourg are missing. Nevertheless, an excellent collection that demonstrates the high level of French chanson.

- Opera Nederland

Enchanté: The Great French Stars (Retrospective RTS 4346) offers 50 tracks from between 1926 and 1961, with a varied cast that seasons the usual suspects with less familiar étoiles of the period.  There are several original versions here, including “My Man”, “Lying in the Hay” and “Beyond the Sea”, which make for interesting comparisons.  Edith Piaf gets the lion’s share of the vocals, and that typically French instrument the accordion gets a look-in, not to mention you-know-who on guitar and violin. C’est magnifique.