In his poem Art poétique, Paul Verlaine declared that poetry should, above all, be musical: 'De la musique avant toute chose'. This quality in his work was already recognized by composers during his lifetime, and it is sometimes claimed that Verlaine has been set to music more often than any other poet after him. For their Verlaine Songbook, Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton have selected songs by ten composers, including two complete cycles – Fauré's La Bonne Chanson and Debussy's Ariettes oubliées. The 33 songs on the disc set a total of 25 texts – several poems by Verlaine have attracted more than one composer, and Clair de lune appears three times, in versions by Debussy, Fauré and Joseph Szulc, while La lune blanche can be heard no less than four, in versions by Fauré, Ernest Chausson, Reynaldo Hahn and Poldowski – the pseudonym of the Belgian-born British composer Régine Wieniawski. Released in 2015 to critical acclaim, Carolyn Sampson's début recital disc, Fleurs (BIS-2102), was a flower-themed anthology with songs by composers ranging from Purcell to Benjamin Britten via Schubert and Debussy. On the present disc the repertoire is rather more concentrated in time – all songs were composed during a span of 35 years (c. 1880-1915) – but the variety is nevertheless striking: a reflection of how different artistic temperaments have responded to the many-facetted Verlaine.
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