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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: 3 minutes 3 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)

Colloque, FP108
First line:
D'une rose mourante
composer
December 1940; published posthumously
author of text
Dialogues pour deux flûtes; retrospectively dedicated À Francis Poulenc, qui a fait chanter ce colloque

Other recordings available for download
Richard Jackson (baritone), Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançais
The poet Paul Valéry (1871–1945) was unquestionably one of France’s greatest poets and men of letters—much admired by both Poulenc and Bernac. Older than Apollinaire (although published as a young man in the same literary reviews), Surrealism passed him by—his great maître was Mallarmé and, building on symbolism, he created his own modernism. It was a style little suited to Poulenc’s music, but the composer wrote a single Valéry setting, just as he composed single settings of Charles d’Orléans, Malherbe, Racine, Anouilh, Colette, Radiguet and Beylié. Each of these is a fine song, a memorable dalliance but, for one reason or another, hardly an enduring liaison.

Colloque is also Poulenc’s only duet—although he prefers, in the manner of many of Schubert’s so-called duets, one voice to follow the other (in this case tenor followed by soprano) rather than have them sing together. The poet’s subtitle is ‘pour deux flûtes’ and in the 1942 edition of Valéry’s Poésies the poem is dedicated to Poulenc. The piano’s quavers in the introduction, an octave apart, are strangely reminiscent of the opening of the Cinq poèmes de Paul Éluard where the composer was also feeling his way with a new poet. The poem is less obscure than much of Valéry’s verse, more of an obvious love poem than anything Éluard ever wrote, and Poulenc clearly finds this a disadvantage. He instinctively shies away from anything as hackneyed as stagey, or staged, romantic lyricism. Accordingly, he keeps the male part of the colloquy lean and serious, permitting a flowering of romantic emotion only with the entrance of the female voice in the song’s twenty-fourth bar. It is here that we perceive what Poulenc’s love songs may have been without the strength of Éluard’s poetry—nearer the immediate sentiment of Les chemins de l’amour than the sublimity of Tel jour telle nuit. There are some lovely, and characteristic, harmonic progressions and an eloquent vocal line, but such approachable music lavished à deux on love’s faded roses, and despite the innate elegance of Valéry, teeters precariously on the borders of operetta; it is surely for that reason that the composer chose not to publish it in his lifetime—the reappearance at the end of the austere opening does nothing to remove the awkward impression of having glimpsed Poulenc denuded of the armoury of literary mystery that rendered his music revelatory rather than sentimental.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013


Other albums featuring this work
'Poulenc: Voyage à Paris' (CDH55366)
Poulenc: Voyage à Paris
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55366  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  

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