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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: 1 minutes 6 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)

Paul et Virginie, FP132
First line:
Ciel! les colonies
composer
August 1946
author of text
1920; from Les joues en feu

Introduction
The poem is from Radiguet’s only collection of poetry, Les joues en feu (1920), and is his commentary on a famous story, Paul et Virginie, a Rousseau-influenced novel by Bernadin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814). The eponymous boy and girl, both fatherless and in love with each other from an early age, are brought up in Mauritius (thus the poem’s references to ‘des colonies’). The author’s pastorale is a tragic love story as well as a charming evocation of innocence and purity of heart in a tropical environment, far from the corruption of society.

It is clear that Poulenc’s youthful friendship with Radiguet, and the poet’s unexpected and early demise, had left the composer with a sense of responsibility regarding this lyric. His commentary in JdmM—unusually detailed for so slight a song—may be quoted at length: ‘These few lines of Radiguet have always had a magical savour for me. In 1920 I set them to music … at that period, lacking technical control, I ran into difficulties, whereas today I believe I have found the means to progress without any real modulation as far as that sudden pause, that silence which makes the ultimate unprepared modulation into C sharp [in the last four bars] unexpected and as though perched right on the top of a tree … One rainy day a feeling of great melancholy helped me to find the tone that I believed to be right. I think it useful to bear in mind how modern poems are placed on the page. It was this that gave me the idea of respecting the blank space in the printing of the poem before “Elle rajeunit” [bars 11–12] … If the tempo is not maintained strictly throughout, this small song, made of a little music, of much tenderness and of one silence, is ruined.’

from notes by Graham Johnson 2013

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