Hugues Cuenod 'Melodies' - A Recital of French Song

It was in 1972, when he was singing at Glyndebourne, that Cuenod began recording for Nimbus. In these records he leaves a unique and precious account of French song, which, incidentally, he taught every year in Europe and the United States. This album of Fauré and Duparc has never previously been released. Hugues Cuenod was between seventy and seventy-six at the time and the result is miraculous. Hear how skilfully he 'speaks' the text like an actor, with perfect diction and clarity. His style is admirably simple and natural, which is the most difficult thing to achieve in the very special art of the French 'mélodie'. He never descends into sentimentality or over-interpretation.



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"Hugues Cuenod was already 70 when he made these recordings, though this hardly shows: the voice is light and steady, and his sense of style impeccable. Both the accompanists are highly sensitive and match the refined intelligence that this great artist brings to this repertoire." The Penguin Guide

It seems appropriate, given the recent death of Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod (1902-2010) to remind readers of his fruitful association with Nimbus throughout the 1970s. This double disc of mélodies was recorded at various points between the years 1972 and 1978 but there is little real deterioration in Cuénod’s voice — the fact that he modestly denied having much of a voice at all should be taken with a large pinch of salt or, rather, that his characteristically nasal voice was of such an individual sound that it makes comparisons unprofitable.
The majority of the songs here are by Fauré, though there are eight by Duparc whose mélodies were the last to be recorded. I think one could reasonably take Après un rêve, one of the composer’s most well known songs, as an index of Cuénod’s Fauré singing. It’s sung with directness, an unruffled simplicity shorn of all artifice, and promotes clarity of textual meaning without in any way introducing artificial or intrusive vowel or consonant sounds. It is also unsentimental, unshowy singing, not at all beautiful as such, in terms of voice production, range or tone, and occasionally pinched, reedy and nasal at the top of the range. The voice nevertheless commands the greatest respect because of its sincerity of purpose.
At his best he evinces a confident and direct sincerity that is very telling. I particularly admired L’horizon chimérique for this quality and it’s something he brings to the Duparc too. Here we notice the change of acoustic, since he was taped at Wyastone Leys, not in the Birmingham studios. The tone is thinner still now, but the sensibility intact, the sinewy control in something like Le manoir de Rosemonde still powerfully at work. In the Duparc settings he’s accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons and in the Fauré, in their entirety, by Martin Isepp. Both were musicians of long experience and are wholly at one with Cuénod.
Jonathan Woolf,

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