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2. La Sauterelle
3. La Véronique
4. L’Eglantine, l’aubépine et la glycine
5. La Tortue
6. La Rose
9. Le Papillon
Soprano soloist – Solveig Kingleborn
“If a person sings instead of talks it’s not natural”, Lutoslawski has observed, and that devastatingly simple maxim has consistently governed his writing for voices, just as surely as it has ensured that his long-cherished project to write an opera still remains strictly a notional one. For the three large-scale vocal works of this maturity – the choral Trois Poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1963), Paroles tissées (the settings of Jean-François Chabrun made for Peter Pears in 1965), and the setting of Robert Desnos’s Les Espaces du sommeil (1975) for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – Lutoslawski selected texts from the French Surrealists, finding in their rich store of imagery layers and strands of meaning that offered themselves naturally to musical amplification and illustration. What attracted him, too, was their essential artificiality, so that the unnaturalness of singing that he so instinctively mistrusted could only enhance rather than undermine their flavour.
The source for the new soprano song-cycle Chantefleurs et Chantefables, completed in 1991, is again the Surrealist Robert Desnos. But Lutoslawski arrived at his choice this time only after considering several other texts. He then suddenly remembered Desnos’s collection of children’s poems, sought them out, and was immediately enchanted – even though it was not at all the kind of material he had envisaged for the work.
Born in 1900, Desnos died of typhus in the Terezin concentraction camp in Czechoslvakia in 1945. A year earlier, before his arrest by the Nazis as a member of the Resistance, he had delivered to his publisher in Paris a manuscript of thirty ‘Chantefables à chanter sur n’importe quel air’, which were published after his death. They had been written for the children of friends (including Daniel Milhaud, son of the composer), and when a definitive edition of the ‘Chantefables et Chantefleurs’ appeared in 1955, it contained another twenty poems that had been rediscovered among the poet’s papers. The collection has remained immensely popular in France and has been learnt by heart by successive generations of school children.
In selecting nine of Desnos’s texts for his cycle, Lutoslawski has produced a set of songs that explores the vivid imagery and bright colours of the natural world through the limpid impartial eyes of a child. The group stands apart from other Luoslaswki song-cycles both in its directness – the musical pictures if paints are sharp-etched, not at all illusive - and in its spare, almost understated scoring. The soprano unfolds her lines in the simplest, most unadorned curves, over textures that never use two instruments when one would create the same poetic effect. It was only after completing the cycle that Lutoslawski heard a recital given in Norway by the soloist Solveig Kingleborn, and became aware that her light tone and colouration created precisely the kind of sound he was seeking to realise in his Chantefleurs.
© Andrew Clements