OP0144. L’ÉTOILE (Chabrier), recorded 2 July, 1941, w.Ansermet Cond. Suisse Romande Ensemble; Ninon Vallin, Hugues Cuénod, Lise Bratschi, Sylvane Pagani, Bernard Berthet, Ernest Mestrallet, Philippe Sorguel, etc. (Switzerland) Cascavelle CVL 2013. Very long out-of-print, final copy! - 7619930201314
“This wacky, black-humored operetta is a minor masterpiece, written by Chabrier in 1877 before he abandoned the law and turned full time to composing. Its silly plot concerns King Ouf the First, who customarily celebrates his birthday with a ritual impalement; a young peddler is picked as the victim, but an astrologer tells the King that the royal line will end with his death, since they share the same star. The score is vivacious and full of color, bubbling over with charming arias, with a splendid finale. The great Ninon Vallin is in excellent voice in the trousers role of the peddler and so is Cuénod as the King; both of them are notable examples of French vocal style at its best. Ansermet keeps all the buffoonery as effervescent as champagne….the music is so delightful that it's worth hearing. There used to be a good recording led by Gardiner, but it's long been out of print. The sound of this 1941 recording is somewhat dated, but it's likely to set the standard for this work for a long time to come.”
-Z. D. Akron
"Ninon Vallin was without doubt the most completely recorded of all major French singers of the first half of the twentieth century. She was born Eugénie Vallin in Montalieu-Vercieu not far from Lyon on or about 7 September 1886, and died near Lyon on 22 November 1961. She studied music at the Conservatoire in Lyon for three years and continued at the Conservatoire Fémina-Musica with Meyrianne Héglon. Her legacy is enhanced by the fact that her recording career paralleled her appearances on stage and the concert platform. The Record Collector (volume 48, #2, 2003) provides a comprehensive discography and much hitherto unknown material on her career, so the remarks here merely draw attention to the close relationship between her stage career and recordings.
Vallin’s début at the Opéra-Comique in 1912 was as Micaëla in CARMEN, whose third act aria she recorded in 1921, and the duet ‘Parle-moi de ma mere’ in 1934 with Miguel Villabella. In 1926, during her second Opéra-Comique period, Vallin appeared more frequently in the title rôle, subsequently singing it often both in France and abroad. She recorded extensive extracts of CARMEN, both solos and duets, mostly electric recordings. MIGNON was added to Vallin’s repertoire during her initial Opéra-Comique season, the first of the rôles tending towards the mezzo end of the soprano range, which particularly suited her voice. She remained associated with the rôle of Mignon, and was chosen to sing the feted 1600th performance at the Opéra-Comique in 1927. She recorded two versions of ‘Connais-tu le pays?’, both duets with Lothario, and ‘Elle est aimée’, though she never committed the Styrienne to wax. Louise, a rôle first assumed by Vallin in 1914, played an important part in her stage and recording career. She recorded ‘Depuis le jour’ on six occasions, and sang the title rôle in Columbia’s 1935 abridged recording of the opera. Mimi in LA BOHÈME was also one of Vallin’s major rôles, sung in French for the Opéra-Comique performances and in Italian for those in South America. Mimi’s entrance and farewell were recorded in several versions (all in French), and in 1932, Vallin recorded the quartet and extracts from the final scene with Villabella. She twice recorded Musetta’s waltz, though there is no evidence she ever sang the rôle on stage. Manon, a rôle she assumed in 1915, was to be even more important for Vallin, as she sang it in France and both North and South America throughout most of her career. Sadly, there is no complete recording, but she did commit to wax all the arias and most of the duets save the finale. Charlotte in WERTHER, another rôle midway between soprano and mezzo, fared better, as there is the 1932 complete recording with Georges Thill, as well as many extracts recorded in the years between the wars.
Vallin remained at the Opéra-Comique until disagreement with the manager, Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi forced her to leave in 1915. She sang extensively in Latin America, then returning to Paris, though this time to the Opéra for her first THAÏS in 1920, quickly adding the two Marguerites (FAUST and LA DAMNATION DE FAUST), before her career there came to an abrupt end, followed by another stint in Latin America. Berlioz’s Marguerite is represented by an abbreviated version of the two arias in a recording from the period of her Opéra appearances and in more substantial extracts recorded at the end of her career in 1955. Gounod’s Marguerite is represented by the two famous arias recorded in several versions, and the garden and church scenes recorded in 1930. Vallin’s return to the Opéra-Comique in 1924 featured her as Louise, while the following year, she again sang both Marguerites at the Opéra. She toured France and the world in subsequent years, with concerts taking up more of her activity than opera. Her repertoire of French and Spanish songs are well represented on disc, though there is little of the Debussy with which she was associated at the beginning of her career."
- Ward Marston
“Having made his début in his mid-twenties, Hugues Cuénod continued to perform into his nineties, making his début at the Met only in 1987 (when he was 85) with a firmly and expressively-sung Emperor Altoum, in TURANDOT. His début at the Wigmore Hall the next year was no less impressive.
A student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1930s, Cuénod participated in the pioneering recordings she made of the Monteverdi madrigals, and also made outstanding recordings of lute songs, of Couperin and of the Evangelist in Bach’s ST MATTHEW PASSION.
But Cuénod was mainly known as one of the most expressive interpreters of French mélodie, a genre to which his silvery, youthful-sounding tenor was ideally suited. He had the unusual ability to ‘speak’ sung words like an actor with perfect diction and clarity, a facility enhanced by his delicate, dry timbre. His style was simple and natural and he never allowed himself to descend into the sort of sentimentality to which many singers of mélodie succumb.
Cuénod did not confine himself to the early and French repertoire. His career was so long-lasting and he was so good a sight-reader that he sang almost everything, from Machaut to Stravinsky, and was almost equally fluent in English, German and Italian as he was in his native French. Despite its light, ethereal quality, his voice could be heard even in the most demanding venues. On the operatic stage his finest roles included Don Basilio in NOZZE, the Astrologer in Rimsky-Korsakov’s LE COQ D’OR, and Sellem in Stravinsky’s RAKE’S PROGRESS — a role created for him.
In Britain, he became a mainstay at Glyndebourne, taking part in more than 470 performances between 1954 and 1987. His roles included Don Basilio and the travesty parts of Erice and Linfea in Cavalli’s L’ORMINDO and LA CALLISTO. He bowed out in 1987 in the cameo role of the Prompter in Strauss’ CAPRICCIO.
Hugues-Adhémar Cuénod was born on 16 June, 1902 at Corseaux-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, and received his vocal training at the Ribaupierre Institute in Lausanne, then at the conservatoires in Geneva, Basel and Vienna.
He began his career as a concert recitalist. In 1928 he made his opera début in Ernst Krenek’s Weimar era work, JONNY SPIELT AUF, at the Théatre des Champs Elysées in Paris, a year after its first performance in Leipzig. The following year he was plucked from obscurity by Noël Coward and given a small role as one of the Green Carnations in the first production of BITTER SWEET, which opened at His Majesty’s Theatre in London before moving to Broadway.
During the 1930s Cuénod continued to spend most of his time on the concert platform in Geneva, Vienna and Paris, where he frequented aristocratic salons and worked with Nadia Boulanger on her pioneering Monteverdi recordings. Towards the end of the decade he made an extensive concert tour of America. During the war years he taught at the Geneva Conservatoire and in 1943 resumed his operatic career, singing in DIE FLEDERMAUS.
After the war he joined the international opera circuit, making his début at La Scala in 1951, and at Glyndebourne and Covent Garden in 1954 (as the Astrologer in LE COQ D’OR). His pioneering 1950 recording of Couperin’s ‘Lamentations’ prompted Stravinsky to ask him to sing in the premiere of THE RAKE’S PROGRESS in Venice in 1951. He was also closely associated with Stravinsky’s ‘Cantata’.
In the 1970s he signed a contract with the small Welsh-based record label Nimbus and made several recordings, of which Satie’s SOCRATE won the Grand Prix du Disque Mondiale at the Montreux Music Festival. Miraculously, Cuénod’s voice remained preserved virtually intact almost into his nineties and he never lost his interpretative skills or his empathy with words and music.
In later life he ran joint courses at the Britten-Pears School at Snape with the Belgian soprano, Suzanne Danco. These were not only delightful events but also object lessons in the teaching of the impeccable style of which they had both been such effective advocates.
Cuénod’s last public appearance was at a gala to mark his 100th birthday in 2002, at which he was presented with the World of Song Award by the Lotte Lehmann Foundation. A guest at the reception afterwards recalled that Cuénod, who showed no signs of letting up, buttonholed him as he was preparing to leave: ‘Please stay tomorrow and come to my house: we’ll do music’, he said.
In 1976 Cuénod was appointed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French minister of culture.
Hugues Cuénod lived with his partner, Alfred Augustin, in the Château de Lully, an 18th-century castle in the Vaud region of Switzerland. In 2007, when Cuénod was 104, changes in Swiss law allowed same-sex couples to marry, and he and Augustin entered into a civil union.”
- THE TELEGRAPH, 31 May, 2013
“For 50 years Ansermet directed an orchestra that was second-rate in tone and technique, yet Ernest Ansermet drew performances from it that cut right to the heart of the music. A musician of catholic taste, Ansermet was a reliable, insightful interpreter of composers from Mozart to Martin. His recordings in the 1950s and 1960s with the Suisse Romande Orchestra, which he founded, retain strong interest for collectors who value nuance over tonal sheen. These recordings are of especial interest as they provide a link to composers active in Paris in the early twentieth century, with whom Ansermet was closely associated.
[In his youth] he kept an eye trained on the technique of local conductors, and took courses in music with Alexandre Denéréaz, Otto Barblan, and Ernest Bloch. Ansermet sought further advice on conducting from Felix Mottl in Munich and Artur Nikisch in Berlin, then concentrated mainly on teaching himself the art of the baton. In 1918 he organized the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, from the start performing a substantial amount of contemporary French and Russian music. Ansermet befriended many of the great progressive composers of the time, especially Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky. Through Stravinsky, Ansermet met Serge Diaghilev and was appointed principal conductor of the latter's Ballets Russes, touring with the company to Paris, London, Italy, Spain, South America, and the United States. During a 1916 tour Ansermet made his first recordings with the Ballets Russes orchestra -- the beginning of a half century of making intriguing records with less-than-stellar ensembles. Through his association with the Ballets Russes, Ansermet was able to premiere many of the period's most important dance scores, including Falla's THREE-CORNERED HAT, Prokofiev's THE BUFFOON, Satie's PARADE, and Stravinsky's PULCINELLA. As an extra-curricular wartime diversion, on 28 September, 1918, Ansermet premiered Stravinsky's L'HISTOIRE DU SOLDAT in Geneva.
Ansermet was also a strong champion of such other contemporary composers as Bartók and Britten, premiering the latter's opera THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA. He retired from conducting in 1967. His publications include LE GESTE DU CHEF D'ORCHESTRE (1943) and LES FONDEMENTS DE LA MUSIQUE DANS LA CONSCIENCE HUMAINE (1961) [B1009 & B1086], in which he used mathematics to discredit 12-tone and other advanced compositional techniques.”
- James Reel, allmusic.com