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Musical Revival

Sunday, 3 January 2010 - 12:18pm

Unusual choices have breathed life into the forgotten music of two French composers, Catherine Lambert writes.

A Melbourne record label has brought previously buried music into the light.

Melba Recordings has been attracting attention from the world’s most respected music critics for its latest release, Turbulent Heart, including being named Editor’s Choice by the December issue of Gramophone.

There are several bold choices that distinguish the recording of music by French composers Louis Vierne and Ernest Chausson.

Melba founder Maria Vandamme chose a tenor to sing Chausson’s poetic songs, when they are usually sung by sopranos or mezzos. But perhaps the greatest choice was to record some music by Vierne that had been previously buried in a cellar.

Melbourne tenor Steve Davislim was honoured with the task of bringing the music back into the world.

‘It was a great surprise and revelatory, firstly because no one knew the music and, secondly, because it was of such high quality,’ Davislim said.     

‘It has caused a huge stir, because even the publisher didn’t know this music existed and a lot of the music critics are embarrassed they didn’t know of it. The music sheets were in a cellar so I’ve had a reak kick out of performing it.’

Born in France in 1870, Vierne is best known for his compositions for the organ.

His music was a pillar of the organ repertoire in the first half of the 20th century.

But he also composed for orchestra and voice.

The songs on Turbulent Heart are musical poems for the voice and reflect the despair of Vierne’s private life.  

The strongest is Ballade du désespéré, Op. 61, which was also Vierne’s last work and not scored at the time of his death.

‘He is the hero of organists around the world and you can actually feel his pedals in the orchestration of these songs,’ Davislim said.

‘He’s very unFrench in a way because the music is heavy, putting him somewhere between German and French composers.’

Davislim, based in Vienna with his wife and two children aged 15 and 12, works throughout Europe.

As much as he enjoys opera, he always returns to the purity of recitals, concerts and recordings.

He began his musical career as a horn player, before studying voice under Dame Joan Hammond at the Victorian College of the Arts.

He had planned to continue playing horn and singing, until Hammond advised him otherwise.

‘Playing the horn closes your throat off, so it would have made singing impossible,’ he said.

‘I’ve had to say good bye to it, but I’ve gained a lot more and never regret my decision.’  


Catherine Lambert  
Sunday Herald Sun

Steve Davislim