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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4
Recording details: March 2011
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: October 2013
Total duration: 11 minutes 39 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)

Chansons villageoises, FP117
composer
October to November 1942; first performed in 1943 by Roger Bourdin
author of text
from Chansons de la grande hune, 1942

Introduction
The aim of Maurice Fombeure (1906–1981) was to ‘refresh’ poetry and give it a ‘new virginity’. He wanted to ‘wash it, brush it up, take it for a walk in the grass, in the wind and the woods. Let’s listen to our hearts—the head has played its part and failed—we now need a little freshness on earth, poetry made of drops of water.’ In order to achieve this Fombeure invested his work with the wit and energy of popular music and old folksongs. In his nautically titled Chansons de la grande hune (‘Songs of the maintop’, 1942) Poulenc found poems ideal for his purposes. The poems are divided into two sections: the first, Chansons de la grande mer, is concerned with sailors and life on the ocean wave; the second is Chansons de la petite terre, eleven poems in the style of country folksongs on dry land, six of which Poulenc set to music. In JdmM he writes: ‘The texts by Fombeure evoke the Morvan where I have spent such wonderful summers! It is through nostalgia for the surroundings of Autun that I have composed this collection.’ This music comes across as a defiant celebration of the French way of life impervious to the German occupation.

Poulenc conceived Chansons villageoises as an orchestral cycle with quite a large percussion section, and it was first sung by Roger Bourdin in 1943 rather than by Pierre Bernac. The composer had envisaged a ‘heavy Verdi baritone (Iago)’ but later admitted that this momentary ‘infidelity’ to his favourite singer had been a mistake. Bernac recorded the piano-accompanied version of the cycle with the composer, perhaps because the vocal requirements of the set—subtlety of colour and diction, the ability to negotiate piano singing in the heights of the passaggio—are hardly associated with a heavy operatic voice. These mélodies, clever stylizations of chansons, are among Poulenc’s most diverting pieces of musical conjuring.

from notes by Graham Johnson 2013

Other albums featuring this work
'Hyperion monthly sampler – October 2013' (HYP201310)
Hyperion monthly sampler – October 2013
HYP201310  Download-only monthly sampler   No longer available
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