What is this recording like? It is the sound of a day spent walking in the mountains with the sun on your back, the wind in your hair and birdsong on the breeze. It is the sound of water bubbling in young streams. It is the sound of peasant vigour, of simple pleasures, of dancing. It is the sound of love, loss and regret. It is the sound of being alive and revelling in it.
Everything sounds just right.
Joseph Canteloube is a one hit wonder of a composer. But what a wonder it is. He composed 28 settings of traditional songs from his mountain region of the Auvergne in the south of France. 21 of them appear here. Born in 1879 he composed during the first half of the 20th century. His style takes these local folk melodies on a light but never insubstantial late romantic ride. He is not far from the English pastoral composers, and is nearest to Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gerald Finzi, though the opening bars of Passo pel prat (track 11) could have come straight from the pen of Elgar. The folk elements, especially the dances, are not drowned in orchestration, but expressed by it.
The music is performed brilliantly by the Orchestra National de Lille-Region Nord under the baton of Jean-Claude Casadesus, but it would be nothing without a great soloist, Veronique Gens is as good as any who have tackled these songs. Her background singing Baroque music is ideal, as that music is never too far from its popular and dance music roots. Her voice has as much colour as any opera singer's I have heard. But normally I can't stand them. What engages me here is that I get the feeling that there is a vigorous peasant heart not far below the skin of this formidable professional singer. That's what makes this disc a delight to listen to.