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Which vocalist performed the best rendition of Fauré's 3 Mélodies, Op. 23: No. 1, Les berceaux?

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3 Mélodies, Op. 23: No. 1, Les berceaux · Sabine Devieilhe


3 Mélodies, Op. 23: No. 1, Les berceaux · Véronique Gens


3 Mélodies, Op. 23: No. 1, Les berceaux - Sandrine Piau


"Like many composers, Faure was consistently attracted by texts about the sea, or any other body of water (Au bord de l'eau, L'horizon chimerique, Les matelots, La fleur qui va sur l'eau, to name just a few), and in this text, the poet draws the parallel between the rocking of a ship and of a cradle, which Faure captured in his setting, one of his most haunting songs. The accompaniment carries this rocking theme steadily in a pensive minor, while the voice in the first verse quietly describes, without any particular "painting" except the simply rising and falling line, the ships in the harbor. In the second, the music becomes more emotional, in the crescendo to the long high notes and the dramatic octave descent, depicting the pull of the horizon. In the last verse, while the accompaniment returns to the rocking motif, the extended notes in the vocal line subtly portray the conflict that the text personifies in the boats, the desire to remain gently rocked in harbor."
- AllMusic Guide



Les berceaux - The cradles

Le long du quai les grands vaisseaux,
Que la houle incline en silence,
Ne prennent pas garde aux berceaux
Que la main des femmes balance.


Along the quay the great ships,
Listing silently with the surge,
Pay no heed to the cradles
Rocked by women’s hands.

Mais viendra le jour des adieux,
Car il faut que les femmes pleurent,
Et que les hommes curieux
Tentent les horizons qui leurrent
.

But the day of parting will come,
For it is decreed that women shall weep,
And that men with questing spirits
Shall seek enticing horizons.

Et ce jour-là les grands vaisseaux,
Fuyant le port qui diminue,
Sentent leur masse retenue
Par l’âme des lointains berceaux.


And on that day the great ships,
Leaving the dwindling harbour behind,
Shall feel their hulls held back
By the soul of the distant cradles.
 

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I actually know this song quite well, as I once sang it myself in recital.

All three ladies acquit themselves well. I did think Piau's tempo too fast at first, but that might just be becuse I'd listened to the other two first. I've heard Devieilhe in the theatre and I liked her very much, but her voice is a bit bright for this particular song I think. I prefer a singer with darker tones and Gens is the one that gives me that.

Somewhere in my head, though, I have the sound of a deeper man's voice in the song and a quick search on youtube came up with José Van Dam and I do think I prefer it sung by a man.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Somewhere in my head, though, I have the sound of a deeper man's voice in the song and a quick search on youtube came up with José Van Dam and I do think I prefer it sung by a man.
Fair enough - I'll look up some of the results on a YouTube search - I work differently than John does - I use "Award Winners" on the Presto Music search page as my starting point for candidates as I can't quite rely on my extensive expertise to make these kinds of decisions because quite frankly I don't have much, if any - Thanks for taking the time to provide your insights - They're always greatly appreciated!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Les berceaux - Sabine Devieilhe - Véronique Gens - Sandrine Piau

Vocal control - Three-way tie

Good tone - Two-way tie - Clearly Gens and Piau with Devieilhe almost, but not quite, being able to reach that level (at least with this song)

Enunciation - Three-way tie

Pronunciation - Three-way tie

Musical phrasing - Edge to Gens with Piau having the edge on Devieilhe

Voice suitability - Again, two-way tie - Clearly Gens and Piau with Devieilhe almost, but not quite, being able to reach that level (again, at least with this song)

Versatility - Three-way tie

Shaughnessy Method = attractive, ample bosom, shapely bottom, ankles thinner than calves - Finally! - Distinct edge for Gens over Devieilhe

Performance that I actually enjoyed the most - Edge to Véronique Gens over Sandrine Piau - with an edge over Sabine Devieilhe
 

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Somewhere in my head, though, I have the sound of a deeper man's voice in the song and a quick search on youtube came up with José Van Dam and I do think I prefer it sung by a man.
I was thinking that too, though I'm not sure I've ever heard it sung by a man. Maybe I was just visualizing sailors in ships.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
I was thinking that too, though I'm not sure I've ever heard it sung by a man. Maybe I was just visualizing sailors in ships.
It's worth looking into although when I used "Award Winners" as one of my search criterium at Presto Music, the results lead to the selections that I used in the contest all of whom, oddly enough and purely by random chance and odd coincidence, happened to be really attractive women...
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
Somewhere in my head, though, I have the sound of a deeper man's voice in the song and a quick search on youtube came up with José Van Dam and I do think I prefer it sung by a man.
This version won a Gramophone Magazine "Recording of the Month" award in August of 2022 - It's just a guess on my part but I think this may be closer to what you may have had in mind -


Les Berceaux, Op. 23 No. 1 · Cyrille Dubois ·
 

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I was thinking that too, though I'm not sure I've ever heard it sung by a man. Maybe I was just visualizing sailors in ships.
Panzéra, Endréze, Bernac, Dens, Souzay, Van Dam. Yves Montand in a "weirdest ever" version. The song needs a solid grounding in the 2nd and 4th lines for the "slow surge" effect. Berganza and Von Stade among the mezzos.

edit (eejit?): + Leonard Warren, in Russia, 1958?!
 

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This version won a Gramophone Magazine "Recording of the Month" award in August of 2022 - It's just a guess on my part but I think this may be closer to what you may have had in mind -


Les Berceaux, Op. 23 No. 1 · Cyrille Dubois ·
I enjoyed that, but I think I prefer a baritone. I was sure I had a recording of Panzéra singing it, but it doesn't seem to be on the collection I have. I like Van Dam in the song too.
 

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I liked all tree renditions though French art songs are not my favorite genre. All were gorgeous and reached the needed degree of melancholy here. I wish I could listen to them live.
I voted for the one I actually heard live, it's Sandrine Piau. Her voice is beautiful, though she sounded a little fresher in a baroque gala than in Alcina next day (she sang Morgana). I must say, her stage presence is amazing. She's not a flamboyant sex goddess like Monica Bellucci, her beauty is of another kind, and she looks as if in her twenties from the audience.
P. S. I like Cyrille Dubois. I saw him in a small part in Le Roi Arthus. It was a rare case when I liked a tenor.
 

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I chose Gens. If I'm not mistaken that was her debut album, & it remains one of her best, IMO. (It's my favorite by her.)

But I slightly prefer this soprano recording,

--Veronique Dietschy, with pianist Philippe Cassard--which unfortunately doesn't seem to be on youtube any longer: Faure: Melodies, Gabriel Fauré de Véronique Dietschy - Qobuz

I also listen to & like the following two mezzo soprano recordings, as well (& I may even prefer mezzos in this song),

-- Frederica Von Stade, with pianist Jean-Philippe Collard:

--Dame Janet Baker, with pianist Geoffrey Parsons: Les berceaux, Op 23 No 1 (Fauré) - from CDA66320 - Hyperion Records - MP3 and Lossless downloads

& my historical pick,
--Ninon Vallin, with pianist Marguerite Long:

I don't generally like male voices in French mélodies.
 

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I chose Gens. If I'm not mistaken that was her debut album, & it remains one of her best, IMO. (It's my favorite by her.)

But I slightly prefer this soprano recording,

--Veronique Dietschy, with pianist Philippe Cassard--which unfortunately doesn't seem to be on youtube any longer: Faure: Melodies, Gabriel Fauré de Véronique Dietschy - Qobuz

I also listen to & like the following two mezzo soprano recordings, as well (& I may even prefer mezzos in this song),

-- Frederica Von Stade, with pianist Jean-Philippe Collard:

--Dame Janet Baker, with pianist Geoffrey Parsons: Les berceaux, Op 23 No 1 (Fauré) - from CDA66320 - Hyperion Records - MP3 and Lossless downloads

& my historical pick,
--Ninon Vallin, with pianist Marguerite Long:

I don't generally like male voices in French mélodies.
I thought I had most of Dame Janet's discs, but find that for some reason I never acquired this Fauré disc. I sampled the bit I could do from the Hyperion website and I hardly recognised her, though normally I only have to hear a few notes to know who it is. Still, I didn't hear enough to be able to make a judgement on it.

I did listen to the other three all the way through. I don't like Dietschy as much as you, and would still prefer Gens, but I did like both Von Stade and Vallin. At first I thought the Von Stade was too slow, and I still do really, but she somehow made the slow, dreamy tempo work and I think, of those we are considering, hers would be my favourite.
 

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I thought I had most of Dame Janet's discs, but find that for some reason I never acquired this Fauré disc. I sampled the bit I could do from the Hyperion website and I hardly recognised her, though normally I only have to hear a few notes to know who it is. Still, I didn't hear enough to be able to make a judgement on it.

I did listen to the other three all the way through. I don't like Dietschy as much as you, and would still prefer Gens, but I did like both Von Stade and Vallin. At first I thought the Von Stade was too slow, and I still do really, but she somehow made the slow, dreamy tempo work and I think, of those we are considering, hers would be my favourite.
By the time Dame Janet came to record for Hyperion it was late in her career. So, yes, her voice isn't as youthful or pure sounding. But the artistry is still there. Btw, her Fauré disc for Hyperion won Brit awards, & I think rightly so. She was always a superb interpreter of the French vocal repertory--Duparc, Berlioz, Ravel, Delage, Chausson, etc. But you can't go into it with the expectation to hear a younger Dame Janet, or you'll be mildly dissapointed.

What I like enormously about Veronique Dietschy in French mélodies, which people may not fully appreciate on first impression, is that she sings this repertory in a less operatic, more cantor-like style. Which means that she never gets screechy in this music: which is something that afflicts so many soprano recordings of French mélodies that I've heard. & especially in Debussy’s mélodies, which can have a greater expressive range, & therefore sopranos can get very screechy & overblown in the upper registers, if his songs are sung too operatically. Have you heard Dietschy sing Debussy? She never gets screechy. (The only female singers that I find comparable to her in Debussy mélodies are Elly Ameling, Maggie Teyte, Victoria de los Angeles, Michèle Command, Régine Crespin, Anne Sofie von Otter, Frederica Von Stade, & at times, Claudette Leblanc, Sandrine Piau, & Anne-Marie Rhodde--although the latter three singers can occasionally get either screechy or overly operatic in Debussy.)

This more cantor-like, more natural approach also allows Dietschy to interpret more shades of meaning within the words--like an actor on stage--than a full blown operatic singer will be able to, at least not to the same extent. Plus, it helps enormously that she is a native born speaker (as always). So, I find her approach to be very natural sounding, and her artfulness in handling the meaning of the words full of subtleties. (Btw, I'd strongly recommend her Debussy & Duparc.)

Gens offers a different kind of artfulness, which is exceptional too. Although I have heard her get screechy elsewhere in this repertory, where her voice becomes overly strained, unlike Dietschy.

I should also mention that Fauré himself wanted the solo singers in his Requiem to sing their parts in more "cantor-like" manner, rather than in a full blown operatic style. Although granted, the Requiem was initially meant to be sung in a church in a religious context, unlike his mélodies. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Fauré also wanted his mélodies to be sung in a slightly more natural style that was closer to the spoken word than an operatic performance.

Though ultimately, of course, each listener will decide for themselves. But it's something to think about when listening to these beautiful songs.
 

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By the time Dame Janet came to record for Hyperion it was late in her career. So, yes, her voice isn't as youthful or pure sounding. But the artistry is still here. Btw, her Fauré disc for Hyperion won Brit awards, & I think rightly so. She was always a superb interpreter of the French vocal repertory--Duparc, Berlioz, Ravel, Delage, Chausson, etc. But you can't go into it with the expectation to hear a younger Dame Janet, or you'll be mildly dissapointed.

What I like enormously about Veronique Dietschy in French mélodies, which people may not fully appreciate on first impression, is that she sings this repertory in a less operatic, more cantor-like style. Which means that she never gets screechy in this music: which is something that afflicts so many soprano recordings of French mélodies that I've heard. & especially in Debussy’s mélodies, which can have a greater expressive range, & therefore sopranos can get very screechy & overblown in the upper registers, if his songs are sung too operatically. Have you heard Dietschy sing Debussy? She never gets screechy. (The only female singers that I find comparable to her in Debussy mélodies are Elly Ameling, Maggie Teyte, Victoria de los Angeles, Michèle Command, Régine Crespin, Anne Sofie von Otter, Frederica Von Stade, & at times, Claudette Leblanc, Sandrine Piau, & Anne-Marie Rhodde--although the latter three singers can occasionally get either screechy or overly operatic in Debussy.)

This more cantor-like, more natural approach also allows Dietschy to interpret more shades of meaning within the words--like an actor on stage--than a full blown operatic singer will be able to, at least not to the same extent. Plus, it helps enormously that she is a native born speaker (as always). So, I find her approach to be very natural sounding, and her artfulness in handling the meaning of the words full of subtleties. (Btw, I'd strongly recommend her Debussy & Duparc.)

Gens offers a different kind of artfulness, which is exceptional too. Although I have heard her get screechy elsewhere in this repertory, where her voice becomes overly strained, unlike Dietschy.

I should also mention that Fauré himself wanted the solo singers in his Requiem to sing their parts in more "cantor-like" manner, rather than in a full blown operatic style. Although granted, the Requiem was initially meant to be sung in a church in a religious context, unlike his mélodies. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Fauré also wanted his mélodies to be sung in a slightly more natural style that was closer to the spoken word than an operatic performance.

Though ultimately, of course, each listener will decide for themselves. But it's something to think about when listening to these beautiful songs.
I have quite a few of Baker's last recordings (she did some Respighi for Collins and, for Virgin, a second recording of Les nuts d'été conducted by Hickox) but, though the voice has obviously aged and the vibrations loosened, I could still recognise her voice from just a few notes. That's what pulled me up short on the Fauré. Maybe it was Hyperion's sound on the sample I listened to.

I'm very interested in what you have to say about Dietschy. I'll definitely give her Debussy and Duparc a try. You like many of the singers I do - Teyte, De Los Angeles, Von Stade etc) so I obviously need to give her a second try.

Incidentally have you ever come across a recital of French songs by Jill Gomez, which was recorded back in the 1970s? Half of it is devoted to Debussy, including the Proses lyriques which aren't often performed. It's always been a big favourite of mine and I played it incessantly after I first bought it back then.
 

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Tsaraslondon,

I know Jill Gomez's singing from her Britten Les Illuminations & Canteloube Songs of the Auvergne, both of which I like. But no, I didn't know about her recital of French songs, so I'll try to sample it. Thanks for the suggestion.

However, I do own quite few good recordings of the "Prose lyriques" already, including those by Piau/Immerseel, Ameling/Baldwin, Dietschy/Strosser, Leblanc/Tryon, & Schafer/Gage--all of which I'd rate highly & am happy with (yes, I'm a Debussy nut). So Gomez will have to offer something different from these performances for me to add yet another recording to my collection. But I'd like to hear her in this music.

I found Dietschy's Duparc album on youtube. I should reiterate, don't expect big romantic performances from her, rather she sings on a smaller, more intimate & more conversational scale than either Baker or Gomez. I suppose her style may be more of an acquired taste, but I like it. Plus, her intonation is superb,


& here she is singing Debussy's wonderful Chansons de Bilitis, L. 90 - No. 1, La flûte de Pan,

For the sake of comparison--& to continue in the spirit of this thread--here are Gens, Piau, Ameling, & Crespin in this magical song,

--Gens/Vignoles:

--Piau, with Arthur Schoonerwoerd on a period Erard piano, which I find a fascinating match & tonal blend to her voice:

--Ameling/Baldwin:
Elly Ameling, Dalton Baldwin - La Flute De Pan.avi

--Crespin/Wustman:
Debussy: Trois chansons de Bilitis, L.90 - 1. La flûte de Pan

This was great idea for a thread, Shaughnessy--thanks! I hope you'll do more of this kind of thing. French mélodies deserve to be listened to & discussed more often than they are.
 

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3 Mélodies, Op. 23: No. 1, Les berceaux · Sabine Devieilhe


3 Mélodies, Op. 23: No. 1, Les berceaux · Véronique Gens


3 Mélodies, Op. 23: No. 1, Les berceaux - Sandrine Piau


"Like many composers, Faure was consistently attracted by texts about the sea, or any other body of water (Au bord de l'eau, L'horizon chimerique, Les matelots, La fleur qui va sur l'eau, to name just a few), and in this text, the poet draws the parallel between the rocking of a ship and of a cradle, which Faure captured in his setting, one of his most haunting songs. The accompaniment carries this rocking theme steadily in a pensive minor, while the voice in the first verse quietly describes, without any particular "painting" except the simply rising and falling line, the ships in the harbor. In the second, the music becomes more emotional, in the crescendo to the long high notes and the dramatic octave descent, depicting the pull of the horizon. In the last verse, while the accompaniment returns to the rocking motif, the extended notes in the vocal line subtly portray the conflict that the text personifies in the boats, the desire to remain gently rocked in harbor."
- AllMusic Guide



Les berceaux - The cradles

Le long du quai les grands vaisseaux,
Que la houle incline en silence,
Ne prennent pas garde aux berceaux
Que la main des femmes balance.


Along the quay the great ships,
Listing silently with the surge,
Pay no heed to the cradles
Rocked by women’s hands.

Mais viendra le jour des adieux,
Car il faut que les femmes pleurent,
Et que les hommes curieux
Tentent les horizons qui leurrent
.

But the day of parting will come,
For it is decreed that women shall weep,
And that men with questing spirits
Shall seek enticing horizons.

Et ce jour-là les grands vaisseaux,
Fuyant le port qui diminue,
Sentent leur masse retenue
Par l’âme des lointains berceaux.


And on that day the great ships,
Leaving the dwindling harbour behind,
Shall feel their hulls held back
By the soul of the distant cradles.
I liked Sabine Devieilhe best, but can't very well describe why. She was "affectated" in a good way. But it was also something about the structure of the voice. I'll see if other comments described it better than me.

Edit: Ha ha, I am the only one voting for her ! Let's see what's going on.
 
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