Video: Hugues Cuénod, Nadia Boulanger, and Claudio Monteverdi



With the passing of Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod (pictured) at the age of 108, many news outlets are making the effort to present an accurate obituary of the distinguished singer. I’m particularly interested in mentions of Cuénod’s connection with Nadia Boulanger and the music of Claudio Monteverdi, a memorable partnership if there ever was one.

Alan Blyth of the Guardian covers their professional relationship, yet goes a bit too far in his opinion of the long-term influence of the Boulanger/Monteverdi recordings.

“In the mid-1930s, [Cuénod] came under the spell, like so many other musicians in Paris at the time, of the teacher-player Nadia Boulanger. He and other dedicated singers and friends performed and recorded madrigals by the then-neglected Monteverdi under her direction. The disc, seldom out of circulation since, sets a standard for the interpretation of the composer and opened the eyes and ears of many to Monteverdi’s genius. Cuénod’s tone blended to peculiarly beautiful effect with that of his fellow-tenor Paul Derenne and their account of Zefiro Torna remains a benchmark in singing Monteverdi.”

The recording may have set a standard when it was first released (since it had no competitors). However, to imply that it continues to have the kind of impact that many Monteverdi interpreters of the last three or four decades have achieved definitely crosses the line. I don’t think it remains the kind of benchmark as do more recent recordings.

With that said, I did have the pleasure of coming across a compilation CD of Boulanger’s Monteverdi a few years ago and was particularly struck by the beauty of “Zefiro torna.”

The singing of tenors Cuénod and Paul Derenne captured the essential melancholy nature of the work, as did Boulanger’s continuo-playing on the piano. It may not be a benchmark performance, but it is an arresting one.

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(photo: Hugues Cuénod in Feburary, 2010, by Lodewijknapoleon)

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