I can’t stop listening to Karina Gauvin’s 2002 recording of Josephe Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne. Summer on a CD is what this is.
Canteloube studied folk songs of Auvergne and reworked them into the multi-volume Chants d’Auvergne published 1923-1955. The texts are simple songs of shepherdesses, rivers, cuckoos, outsmarting a male passer-by, unrequited love and stolen kisses, but what matters more is the musicality and strangeness of the language they’re written in. Auvergnat or Auvernhat is one of the many languages that had to die in order for the one national French language to emerge, a dialect of the former Occitan states which were gradually conquered, Catholicized (adieu, Cathars) and Frenchified. So after reading the translation of the lyrics, I took them into account, but couldn’t stop thinking about these countless cracks and the falseness of nationhood. The language, with its Spanish, Portuguese and French ingredients, confuses you at every turn.
There is nothing simple — or even particularly folk, if you ask this anti-folk grump — about the music. It is utterly gorgeous, bursting the way the nature does on a summer afternoon, with cicadas, the buzz of the flies, wind swept crowns of trees, birds in all kinds of arrangements choral and solo, sounds of water ranging from the sparse drops to the force of the spring river, the entire sublime symphony.
And this with a chamber ensemble, in this case The Canadian Chamber Ensemble formed in 2002 by the 16 principals of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. There are amazing instrumental solos and leads all over the score. The woodwinds are often the absolute stars: there are the solos which you can easily imagine in Tristan und Isolde.
Take a listen to Baïlèro
In some other songs, percussion is the king. The ancient dance bourrée inspired several songs.
Many a soprano and mezzo has performed and recorded the Chants, with varying degrees of grasp: Kiri Te Kanawa, Arlene Auger, Victoria de los Angeles, Dawn Upshaw, Veronique Gens, Frederica von Stade. Anne Sofie von Otter sang a selection with Marc Minkowaki & Les Musiciens de Louvre at the Verbier festival last summer; this may still be available on MediciTV website, where I watched and rewatched it in September. You can sample many of these on YT and check for the excess of melodrama (no Verdi should be present in the Chants, Victoria de los A), pronunciation and mastery of the text (Kiri at moments loses her way), Fach and colour (Dawn Upshaw’s Bailero in particular make me think that a soubrette soprano can never sing this properly).
You’re safe with this CD. Karina Gauvin’s Auvergne is golden.