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Track(s) taken from CDA67623

Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël

composer
1952
author of text
Nos 1 & 2: Matins Reponsories for Christmas Day; No 3: Antiphon for the Octave of the Epiphany; No 4: Vespers Antiphon on Christmas Day

Polyphony, Stephen Layton (conductor)
Recording details: April 2007
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Mike Hatch
Release date: March 2008
Total duration: 10 minutes 6 seconds

Cover artwork: The Closed Eyes (1890) by Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Musée d'Orsay, Paris / Lauros / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London
 
1
O magnum mysterium  [3'15]
2
Quem vidistis pastores dicite  [2'21]
3
Videntes stellam  [2'31]
4
Hodie Christus natus est  [1'59]

Other recordings available for download

Westminster Cathedral Choir, James O'Donnell (conductor)
Westminster Abbey Choir, James O'Donnell (conductor)

Reviews

'From the very outset of the Gloria it's clear that this is a performance of real distinction … the 38 voices of Polyphony are augmented by 31 from Trinity College, Cambridge, while an unusually hefty contingent of orchestral players makes up the Britten Sinfonia on the disc. What results is not only music-making of immense power and vibrancy—but also an ability, brilliantly directed by Layton, to capture Poulenc's 'half hooligan, half monk' musical persona … then, in the final chorus of the Gloria, after the boisterous start, we have a moment of profound sanctity and another, crowned with incredible delicacy by Susan Gritton, of mouth-watering enchantment … it is the vivid sense of unfettered joy in the Gloria and the matchless intensity of feeling revealed in the motets that make this such a gloriously distinguished disc … the performers here leap out of the speakers with this unashamedly ebullient account of Poulenc's Gloria' (Gramophone)

'Stephen Layton's tight control of his forces, both choral and orchestral, lends impeccable ensemble and heart-thumping excitement—has the opening tutti ever had such punch? Soprano Susan Gritton is superb, too, in her committed, soaring performances. The combined choirs of Trinity College, Cambridge and pro group Polyphony are astounding as a virtuoso choral unit … the motets on Layton's recording are a masterclass in choral singing' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Poulenc's riotously wild, spiky and humorous Gloria is given a marvellously fresh interpretation here by Polyphony and the choir of Trinity College, with Susan Gritton a glorious ethereal presence, floating above the texture like a gossamer-winged angel. But perhaps the real interest in this disc lies in the more unfamiliar motets. Each is an exquisite example of Poulenc's daring choral writing, handled here by Polyphony with the same subtlety and skill they brought to their Bruckner Hyperion disc last year' (The Observer)

'This is a real treat. Polyphony brings its characteristic incisiveness, precision and evenness of tone to Poulenc's unaccompanied Lenten and Christmas motets, Salve regina and Exultate Deo. But it is the account of the Gloria … that makes this a real must-buy. For this, Polyphony is joined by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, where Stephen Layton presides as director of music, along with the taut playing of the Britten Sinfonia. To cap it all, Susan Gritton sears the heart in her solos, while the church recording gives the whole enterprise a reverent halo' (The Daily Telegraph)

'If there's a recording out there that does more to honor Poulenc's intentions in his spiky, delightfully off-centred setting of the church's ode to the glory of God, I haven't heard it … Domine Deus and other introspective interludes exude real spiritual intensity, the soprano is terrific, and the choir lets the emotions fly with total commitment. Hyperion catches it all … without question, this heads straight to the head of the Poulenc Gloria class' (American Record Guide)

'The Gloria … radiates a kind of blazing intensity second to none. Quite how Stephen Layton gets the singers of his hand-picked choir Polyphony to generate such white heat in a draughty North London chruch on a wet mid-week morning I do not know, but he does … this Gloria is recorded throughout with wonderful vocal and instrumental clarity and definition: precision of ensemble and intonation is absolute, the sound spellbinding—the dynamic range is breathtaking, but the recording has no trouble coping. It's an exhilarating listen; and on top of all that, Layton's chosen soloist is a joy, too. Susan Gritton soars ethereally above the stave in the two 'Domine Deus' movements, her sweetness of tone and so-discreet portamento ideal for Poulenc … the more sombre mood of the four unaccompanied Lenten motets is superbly caught: the effect in, for instance, the wonderful 'Vinea mea electa' is almost heart-rending, a powerful but despairing cry from the heart. There have been various fine versions of the Gloria over the years … I doubt if many of them can hold a candle to this one' (International Record Review)

'This beautifully produced disc … the best-known work here is the Gloria, in which Stephen Layton and his choir do not attempt to disguise the work's debt to Stravinsky, and in which Susan Gritton's soaring soprano adds the finishing touches … this collection is all exquisitely done' (The Guardian)

'Conductor Stephen Layton's sentient performance is graced by Susan Gritton's ethereal soprano solos and rounded off with some of Poulenc's more solemn a cappella motets' (The Independent on Sunday)

'A thrilling acoustic captures Layton and his forces revelling in Poulenc's punchy rhythms and pungent harmonies. Soloist Susan Gritton is … soaring and ecstatic in the 'Qui sedes' … it's all superbly performed' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Trying to decide where best to start in praising this disc was my most difficult task, as everyone involved sounds truly involved. Stephen Layton is a marvelous conductor; not only are his tempos good and his textures clear, but the Britten Sinfonia plays with real gusto. His vocal group, Polyphony, and the trinity College choir sing not only with an excellent vocal blend but also with emotional involvement … and soprano Susan Gritton … sings with tremendous feeling. This is a truly alive recording … this one can definitely hold its own' (Fanfare, USA)

'Poulenc became one of the great sacred choral composers of the twentieth century. Gloria (1959) for mixed choir, soprano and orchestra is an example of his mastery of synthesizing a restrained yet joyful ecstasy with twentieth century spikiness. By reducing the forces in this recording, Stephen Layton reveals their dissonance without mitigating their heartfelt religious spirit. The result is a freshness and clarity that sheds new light on this work. Susan Gritton’s soprano voice … soars above the choral forces in a way that emphasizes the work’s ardor. The recording, made in All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, is a perfect combination of immediacy and religious resonance that clarifies the musical forces without lessening ambience. This is a significant and groundbreaking recording of this great work' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'It's not that more choirs wouldn't love to perform these works, but for many they are just over the line of difficulty—demanding an extraordinarily solid vocal technique and an ensemble with exceptional sensitivity to expressive details … not surprisingly, Polyphony joins the short list of excellent choirs who've recorded the motets with first-rate performances … energy and spontaneity along with equal vocal virtuosity' (ClassicsToday.com)

'Layton's recording comes very close to perfection and certainly represents one of the 'must-have' CDs of the year so far' (Musical Criticism.com)
These exquisite miniatures paint four colourful scenes from the nativity story. O magnum mysterium is the most profound: slow and (by Poulenc’s standards) harmonically austere, it grows in intensity toward the final repetition of the main text, via an intimate verse in praise of the Virgin. The text of Quem vidistis makes two demands of the shepherds, set in contrasting ways by Poulenc. ‘Who did you see?’ is a cantilène accompanied by searching quaver movement; by contrast, the imperative ‘Speak … and proclaim the birth of Christ’ is a trumpet blast worthy of the annunciatory angels themselves. The crystalline refrain of Videntes stellam evokes a placid and (of course) starlit night, through which the Magi travel with burgeoning excitement; this reaches a rich climax as they enter the stable and present their gifts; outside the star shines on, undisturbed. In the final motet, Hodie Christus natus est, the faithful make their response to the news with unbuttoned exuberance: ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ accompanied by popping champagne corks.

from notes by Robert Quinney © 2008

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A Christmas Caroll from Westminster Abbey
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Poulenc: Mass & Motets
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