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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: 2 minutes 1 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)

La Grenouillère, FP96
First line:
Au bord de l’île on voit
composer
October 1938
author of text
1904

Introduction
Both Renoir and Monet painted the Grenouillère—a resort on the Seine in the western suburbs of Paris, popular in the late 1860s, where working-class Parisians (the women ‘à grosses poitrines / Et bêtes comme chou’) could swim in a spa, boat on the river, and eat and drink in a floating café—‘Sundays of ease and contentment’ as Poulenc put it in JdmM. In 1904 Apollinaire visited the painters Derain and Vlaminck who lived in the area; he passed by the Grenouillère, and saluted, in passing, a once-celebrated watering-hole frequented by the Impressionists and literati more than thirty years earlier. More than thirty years after the poem was written, Poulenc, now at his height as a song composer, captures the poem’s atmosphere with relaxed insouciance—four imperturbable crotchets per bar somehow convey movement within stasis: the gentle undulations of the Seine cradle the bumping and bobbing of empty boats (as depicted—shaded by trees—in the foreground of Monet’s Les baigneurs de la Grenouillère in London’s National Gallery). The vocal line unfurls, molto legato, gently resigned to the transitory nature of life, a sadness momentarily enlivened by musings about the Renoiresque clientele (bare arms, décolleté plongeant, Maupassant) in the late heyday of the second Empire. This is all quintessential Parisian nostalgia. Poulenc admitted borrowing the musical language of Musorgsky (the ‘Nursery’ cycle) for the bars beginning ‘Petits bateaux vous me faites bien de la peine’ but this detracts not in the least from two pages of perfection, an out-and-out masterpiece, and a supremely simple one.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013

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