The most eye-catching part of the packaging for The Good Song was a small explicit content sticker in the top left hand corner. I didn’t give it much thought, writing it off as a packaging error, or a joke, a mild grab for attention. It wasn’t until I was looking through the English translations of Poulenc’s Chansons gaillardes provided with the disc that I realised this sticker might be more related to the content that first expected. Poulenc’s Chansons gaillardes derives its lyrical content from obscene 17th-century texts, resulting in lyrics such as:
To the god of love a virgin
Offered a candle
That she might obtain a lover
The god smiled at her request
And said to her: Pretty one while you wait,
You can always use the offering
It is an example of obscenity realised as beautiful music. Of course these words sound far more eloquent in French.
In 2013 Thomas Meglioranza devoted an entire album to Schubert’s Winterreise, a logical extension of 2007’s Schubert Songs. It is with interest that 2014’s The Good Song moves tangentially to Meglioranza’s recorded work this far. There is no Schubert to be heard here, but Meglioranza doesn’t stray too far from the late Romantic and early Modern periods, selecting song cycles that are both technically challenging and melodically rewarding.
The Good Song focuses exclusively on exploring the diversity within some of the greatest examples of French vocal writing. The album opens with the longest song cycle on offer: Fauré’s La Bonne chanson. It’s a fine showcase for Meglioranza’s rich, warm baritone and sets the album off to a fine start. Debussy’s Fétes galantes II feels decidedly unconventional following on from Fauré, highlighting that this album is far from a conventional stroll through standard vocal repertoire. The ambiguous harmonic and rhythmic contours of the music are beautifully realised by the performers, showing the depth of not only Meglioranza’s abilities but also of Reiko Uchida’s accompaniment – nowhere else is the accompaniment elevated to such significance.
Following an appropriately rowdy rendition of Poulenc’s Chansons gaillardes and a solid, if conventional, realisation of Ravel’s Deux épigrammes de Clément Marot, The Good Song finishes with a second Poulenc work, La bestiaire. Historically, the accompaniment was originally scored for flute, clarinet, bassoon and string quartet, which results in an unconventional arrangement for piano and voice. It is here that Uchida is truly able to display her considerable talents, with Poulenc’s subtle musical exaggeration capably realised and shaped by Uchida in collaboration with Meglioranza’s vocal dexterity.
The Good Song is a fine collection of some more unusual and exciting vocal repertoire from the late romantic and early modern periods, faithfully realised with subtlety and nuance.