This was a splendid opportunity to hear some infrequently performed works given a sensitive reading by a native speaker of the language. While not possessed of the most gorgeous instrument, Mr. Top sang in true French style with lovely warm phrasing, delicacy and total involvement with the material. Ms. Hall partnered with the lightest of touch, painting pictures with her fingers.
The first cycle, Poème d'Avril was written in 1866 with all the fervor of a young man exploring the many faces of love, from anticipation to regret over its ending. Massenet was experimenting at this time with the incorporation of declamatory lines alternating with singing, an interesting choice if it pleases your ear. We ourselves prefer a sung line. A decade later, Massenet wrote the next cycle on the program, Poème d'Octobre, which alternated between moods of nostalgia and passion.
It would be another two decades before he wrote Poème d'un Soir and the final work on the program, Expressions Lyriques was not published until 1913, just after his death, but had been composed in the last ten years of his life. In this cycle, he returned to the aforementioned compositional style of his early years with yet more spoken passages. The most passionate song in this group is the last letter Werther wrote to Charlotte, "La dérniere lettre de Werther á Charlotte".
Of course, Massenet composed many other song cycles which we long to hear and appreciate for their delicate finely wrought melodies and equally fine accompaniment. We would, of course, wish to hear them in a more intimate space than Symphony Space where the appreciative audience seemed but a smattering in the large auditorium.
(c) meche kroop