on 15 February 2013
Those of you who come from a by-gone age, as I do, will greatly appreciate this compilation of Charles Trenet's most popular songs, taken from the years 1937 to 1954 - the polite ones, that is. During the '30s he recorded some rather racy ones and I was far too young to understand the double meanings when I heard them in the late '40s. Imagine my parents' embarrassment, when I put one of these on to entertain a "high-up"who was visiting our home, to fill in the time till my parents got back from wherever they'd been. The "high-up" was very amused, but my father wasn't! I pointed out that he shouldn't have left the records accessible to me if they were going to cause an international incident! Just shows what a horrid, precocious child I was. . .
Anyway, this CD has lots of songs I already knew and many I didn't. Trenet composed most of the songs, music and lyrics in many cases. Trenet was a gentle chansonnier in the French tradition, without Montand's sexiness, or Jean Sablon's sad quality - just interesting, intelligent songs to listen to with pleasure. Indeed, his diction is so perfect, listening to the CD might be a good way to brush up your French vocabulary before your next visit to France.
Maybe his most famous song in Britain is 'La Mer'. In France it's probably 'Vous, qui passez sans me voir' - a song that still brings a lump to my throat - or the last track 'Boum'. They're all on this lovely CD. It's difficult to exaggerate his influence on other French singers, or the affection in which he was held in France.
As French as a baguette, upon his death in 2001 Charles Trenet had managed to shake off the taint of supposed collaboration with the occupying Nazis and become a national institution, revered and beloved. Had he written no other song than "La mer", since recorded in countless cover-version in myriad forms, translations and arrangements by other artists, he would certainly have been remembered for just that one mega-hit - but as it was he wrote the lyrics and music for hundreds; this compilation is the pick of them.
His musical idiom is essentially swing alternating and combining with the more intimate style of the French chanson or mélodie. The recording and issue of "La mer" was delayed three years until 1946 because Columbia didn't think it jazzy enough but it soon became his anthem, just as his "La douce France" became a gentler domestic alternative to "La Marseillaise". His range of voices was extraordinary; he was essentially a baritone crooner who knew how to exploit the microphone expertly. Sometimes his voice is a deep brown baritone; at others he affects a light, breathy, caressing tenor. He could also assume a quasi-operatic power, such he employs at the climax to "La mer", or drop into a variety of comic modes, such as in "La Polka du Roi" - and always there is that very Gallic fast vibrato bordering on a tremolo which is somehow so suave, attractive and faintly louche.
His diction is so clear that the average Anglophone Francophile with a bit of school French will be able to pick up a good deal despite the absence of a libretto - and a cursory Internet search soon makes those lyrics readily available. Many of the subjects of his songs are conventional - love, patriotism, lost youth, Paris - yet there is often a witty, funny and even surreal quality to the words. Trenet will suddenly sneak a whimsical, almost subversive flight of fancy into an otherwise apparently innocent narrative. To English ears - I cannot speak for the native French but I imagine the effect is much the same - there is an extraordinary poetry in the content and inflection of his French. Of course, one of his most famous songs is a swing setting of Verlaine's "Chanson d'automne" and as much as I love the music I cannot for the life of me hear anything other than a complete mismatch between the jaunty musical idiom and the lugubrious text; my preference is for Trenet's own flashes of poetic brilliance, as in his description of the métro train emerging from its tunnel:
Miracle sans nom à la station Javelle
On voit le métro qui sort de son tunnel
Grisé de soleil, de chansons et de fleurs
Il court vers le bois, il court à toute vapeur.
The presence of Django Reinhardt and the "Quintette du Hot Club de France" (sic) in "La cigale et la fourmi" is an added bonus. It seems that in order to pack this disc to the max with 27 hits it was necessary almost to do away with gaps between tracks; one follows another disconcertingly quickly. The mono sound is seductively atmospheric and redolent of the era; it's hard to listen any of the numbers here without simultaneously smiling and succumbing to a sense of nostalgia.
on 6 March 2013
Couple of years back, trying to find my way to the sea-front at Narbonne, I stopped to ask directions (in halting French!), and noticed a sign with the street name - "Avenue Charles Trenet". I suddenly wanted to hear his songs again, numbers I hadn't heard for years and years, and yet, along with Edith Piaf, seem to perfectly catch the mood and atmosphere of French café life. They're all here - 'La Mer', 'La Vie qui va', 'Douce France', and of course, 'Boum!'. Such huge fun, and they make me yearn to be back in France again.
Trenet was a real artist; the songs have a wide range of character, and Trenet has many voices, from an edgy tenor to a rich chocolaty baritone. A bonus is that the arrangements are delightful and atmospheric - another reviewer mentions the evocative opening of 'La Mer' as an example. And there are some great musicians joining Trenet, notably Django Reinhardt and his pals of the Quintette du Hot Club de France in 'Le Cigale et le Fourmi'. Incidentally, I notice the song 'Verlaine' has a guitarist listed among the instrumentalists called 'Joseph Reinhardt', Django's older brother, who was responsible for getting Django (Jean, originally) going on the guitar again when, as a boy, he lost the use of two of his left-hand fingers in a fire at the family home.
Even if your French isn't up to much, it's impossible to listen without smiling - pure fun.
on 30 May 2013
If you need to feel the performance is just for you, and this is your preferred period of music then you really must buy this. The tracks have not been "messed about ".For me this recalled listening to my parents gramaphone on Sunday mornings.Before going out to pick-nick in the sunshine.The MP3 download works really well as the orriginal recordings do not have a very wide dynamic range. As much authenticity as i can get, or need on modern equipment. If you like mid 20th century Parisian "jazz" and you do not own these recordings then you are missing out.
on 18 September 2013
Smashing! Soopa! Doopa! Playing the CD now and it is cheering everybody up and Susie is dancing around like the demented wrinklie she is and we are!
on 5 March 2013
This CD is chiming with the lovely Spring day which I can see out of the window. "Guaranteed to cheer you up" should be emblazoned on the cover. The first track La Mer is taking me to sun glinting off a silver sea, but Trenet also hints at the naughty but nice side of life at the beach too. La Polka Du Roi, is a cheeky little number and one has to smile. Jokey, yet controlled, sophisticated yet a tiny bit trashy (in a good and real way) this will be the soundtrack of my 2013 Summer. Excellent and Boum! I say.
on 9 April 2014
The other day I was walking at the beach with my friend and he all of a sudden he played this song which bowled me over.
Warm and natural voice, it gave some sort of cosy feeling, echo's from old times , when everything was still beautifull?
on 5 October 2015
Charles Trenet has long been a favourite' chanteur' of mine from that pre and post war era of popular singers. I found this selection of
his songs very enjoyable.
on 24 March 2015
After hearing these songs on the radio over the years, I decided to buy even though my french is so so. Very pleased with the cd as it transports you to France!!
on 2 April 2014
This was a present for a friend as I used Paris as her 80th birthday theme. She was delighted with it.