Classical CD Reviews

“The Rascal and the Sparrow: Poulenc Meets Piaf” = Piano transcriptions of songs by Poulenc and sung by Piaf – Antonio Pompa-Baldi, p. – Steinway & Sons

Pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi dedicates his massive keyboard talent to the French masters of chanson, Piaf and Poulenc, who consummate an unrealized love-affair in musical transcriptions.

Published on September 17, 2013

The Rascal and the Sparrow: Poulenc Meets Piaf” = Les chemins del’amour; Hommage a Edith Piaf; Hymne a l’amour; Rosemonde; Un grand amour; Berceuse; Reine des mouettes; C’est ainsi que tu es; La vie en rose; Les amants d’un jour; C; Paris; Je sais comment; Le Pont; Mon legionnaire; Je n’ai envie que de t’aimer; C’est a Hambourg; Couplets bachiques; Nos souvenirs chantent; Non, je ne regretted rien; Mon Dieu!; Le depart; Le dernier mazour; Attributs; Montparnasse; Hyde Park; Vous n’ecrivez plus? – Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano – Steinway & Sons 30015, 67:40 ****:

Both Edith Piaf and Francis Poulenc died in 1963; so, in order to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their passing and their common bonds in French musical culture, pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi (rec. 26-28 April 2013) has arranged songs by Poulenc and adopted “elaborations” of Piaf songs by Roberto Piana in order to extend Poulenc’s own tribute to Piaf in his Improvisation No. 15 in C Minor, “Hommage a Edith Piaf.”  Whether or not the two French musical luminaries ever met remains speculative, but the piano arrangements here bind them in their devotion to French chanson.

The word amour appears enough times in the course of the song arrangements to let us know that Poulenc in his “Parisian sexuality” and “La Mome Piaf” in her often tragic plaints experienced passion and heartbreak consistently. Each performing in the concert hall and French cabaret, respectively, Poulenc and Piaf combine love, loss, sorrow, and death in a lyrical but often picaresque amalgam that, like Till Eulenspiegel, makes light of life’s darker elements. The first Piaf song, Hymne a l’amour by Marguerite Monnot, might pass as a jazzy Christmas carol. Written for the ill-fated boxer Marcel Cerdan – who died aboard the same flight that took away violinist Ginette Neveu and her brother Jean – the Hymne celebrates the great love of Piaf’s life. The canny harmonies of Poulenc’s songs often evoke Cole Porter, that combination of what Claude Rostand called “the lover of life, mischievous, bon vivant. . .melancholy and serenely mystical, half monk and half rascal.”

The ephemeral often blends with the eternally poignant, as in Reine des mouttes from Poulenc’s Metamorphoses. The eternal Piaf assertion in the form of a ballade, Non, je ne regretted rien (by Charles Dumont) and its militant counterpart, Mon legionnaire (Monnot), testify to Piaf’s indomitable spirit. The evocation of the City of Light, Paris (by Andre Bernheim), itself rings with ardor and melancholy, the source of love for all who travel on or along the Seine. By the time we reach the last set of Poulenc melodies, from Le depart to Vous n’ecrivez plus? we can barely distinguish the musical styles, so completely have their rhetorical and erotic conceits merged into one unbroken line of bittersweet remembrance. Each musician stands at the edge of Love’s abyss, half obsessed with self-preservation and the other with the desire to merge like Tristan and Isolde, into the bliss of self-annihilation with the Beloved. Rarely have the knife and the wound ached for each other so tenderly.

—Gary Lemco




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