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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4
Recording details: January 2012
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: October 2013
Total duration: 6 minutes 44 seconds

'Johnson's playing is marvellous, virtuosic where needed, but above all attuned to every nuance of his singers. This really is a multifaceted release: the blending of the art forms that was characteristic of Poulenc's time, where poets were absorbed by painters, and composers by poets, alongside the 15 singers gathered on these discs, together with the chameleon-like nature of Poulenc's own genius, all make for an enterprise of dazzling complexity. The recording quality is exemplary, combining clarity with a perfect bloom on the piano sound' (International Record Review)

'There are some outstanding performances: Christopher Maltman's account of Miroirs brûlants and La fraîcheur et le feu (both based on Eluard), and the Calligrammes (on Apollinaire's texts) are worth the price on their own, while Sarah Fox is just as persuasive in Les chemins de l'amour as she is in Tel jour telle nuit. There are telling contributions, too, from Ailish Tynan, Susan Bickley and Ben Johnson, and a brief appearance in the Quatre chansons pour enfants by the English grande dame of French song Felicity Lott. Touchingly, one work also features the voice of baritone Pierre Bernac, Poulenc's recital partner, for whom many of the songs were composed; he's the narrator in a 1977 recording of L'histoire de Babar and the whole set is dedicated to his memory. It's a gorgeous collection, and for sometime Poulenc sceptics like me, a real revelation' (The Guardian) » More

'Especially enjoyable is the final disc, subtitled Fancy. Soprano Susan Bickley is superb in Poulenc’s early Poèmes de Ronsard—sparky settings of Renaissance poetry, and Ashley Riches has fun with the better-known Chansons gaillardes. The Huit chansons polonaises, sung by Agnieszka Adamczak, pay oblique homage to Poulenc’s beloved Chopin. There’s not a weak link among the vocal cast, and there’s even a cameo from the great Felicity Lott. A wonderful bonus is the inclusion of a 1970s BBC taping of Babar, narrated with impeccable grace and wit by Poulenc’s long-time recital partner Pierre Bernac. Johnson’s accessible, comprehensive notes deserve to be published in book form, and Hyperion generously provide full texts and translations. These songs will comfort the most jaded of palates, and this box set contains enough riches to sustain a lifetime’s listening. In Johnson’s words, Poulenc’s music 'has seemed dark and joyous, accessible and remote, imperishable yet infinitely fragile, and now it is in the hands of a younger generation'.' (TheArtsDesk.com)

Cocardes, FP16
composer
1919; Chansons populaires sur des poèmes de Jean Cocteau
author of text
Poésies 1917-1920

Introduction
This set of three songs, originally accompanied by small instrumental ensemble, is an evocative time capsule of popular culture during a certain period in post-war French life—the city’s music halls, the Medrano circus, Marseilles (according to Poulenc), the contemporary preoccupations of the media, somersaults of memory. Influenced by Erik Satie and his ballet Parade, Henri Hell explained that ‘the source of inspiration is the same—the circus, the travelling fairs, with their poetry, tender, mechanical and droll’. Poulenc says that the essential thing is to believe in the words (printed in Cocteau’s Poésies 1917–1920, where the three poems are grouped together under the title Cocardes), ‘which fly like a bird from one branch to another’. The end of one word is often the beginning of the next—‘Carnot, Joffre’ leading to ‘J’offre’, ‘Un bonjour de Gustave’ juxtaposed to ‘Ave Maria’, ‘piano mécanique’ morphing to ‘Nick Carter’ (a popular American detective serial), and so on; indeed this technique also applies to the titles where Miel de Narbonne is followed by Bonne d’enfant and so on.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013

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