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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4
Recording details: July 2008
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: October 2013
Total duration: 6 minutes 47 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)

Airs chantés, FP46
composer
1927/8; pour soprano d'après des poèmes de Jean Moréas
author of text

Introduction
What could be more chic, more Parisian, more Cocteau-like, than to mock literary icons of the past, and trample on the reputation of a deceased poet, once famous, and now very much out of fashion? This was entirely Poulenc’s aim with Airs chantés, a cycle, or perhaps anti-cycle of songs, during the composition of which he promised himself, as he put it, ‘every possible sacrilege’. It was also partly a game to tease a friend, François Hepp, who genuinely admired the poet. Jean Moréas was the pseudonym of the Greek-born poet Ioannis Papadiamantopoulos (1856–1910). Having already published a collection of Greek poetry in Athens, Moréas came to Paris and made the acquaintance of Verlaine and Mallarmé. He was a man of formidable culture and technical gifts, but the neoclassical purity of his style (he belonged to the so-called ‘École romane’) laid him open to charges of being a latter-day Leconte de Lisle and an emotionless pasticheur. He also took himself very seriously indeed. Poulenc certainly felt that Moréas’s verse was ‘suitable for mutilation’; for the only time in his songs he writes that the work is ‘after’ (‘d’après’) the poems—as if to distance himself from the writer, and from the responsibility of deliberately misrepresenting him. The composer then proceeded to write a set of songs ‘against’ the texts that was an unexpected ‘hit’ with singers and the public. What the poet might have thought of it is another matter.

The poems are taken from different books of Moréas’s Stances (1899–1901). The fact that Poulenc’s four songs were chosen from Stances Books 3–7 suggests that the composer used a collection, published in 1901 (belonging to his parents perhaps), that prints only the last five of those once-celebrated seven books. Air romantique is Book 7 No 4; Air champêtre is Book 6 No 1; Air grave is Book 3 No 8; Air vif is Book 5 No 1. Poulenc clearly hunted assiduously for his prey.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013

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