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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4
Recording details: May 2010
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: October 2013
Total duration: 3 minutes 40 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)

Hymne, FP144
First line:
Sombre nuit, aveugles ténèbres
composer
2-8 November 1948; dedicated to Doda Conrad
author of text
translated from the Breviary

Introduction
The bass Doda Conrad (1905–1997) was the son of Marya Freund (1876–1966), the Polish soprano resident in France who had played an important part in early Poulenc performances, and he was the dedicatee of three of Poulenc’s songs. Conrad was a member of Nadia Boulanger’s ensemble (performing and recording Monteverdi, Rameau and Brahms) and an aspiring recitalist. He was able to approach Poulenc as an old family friend and ask him to compose a piece to be premiered in a New York recital in December 1948 (he had already premiered the Vilmorin Mazurka in November, also in New York).

The marking of this curious but eloquent song is Largo. It is an incantation, as might be sung by a French Sarastro. The vocal line is notated in the bass clef, and for the first ten bars the pianist’s hands also remain there, effecting an initially dark and murky texture. The high priest begins by invoking Olympus in classical manner but redeems himself with an address to Christ, ‘notre unique lumière’. The composer manages the alexandrines (which he admitted to finding difficult to handle) by alternating freely between 3/4 and 4/4. The harmonization of this imposing hymn underlines the majesty one associates with le grand siècle and its ceremonial musical flourishes. Throughout this song there is a dotted-rhythm motif that evokes the sound of muffled drum (both hands darting down to the bass clef).

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013

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