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|Robin Tritschler (tenor), Geraldine McGreevy (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)|
|Thomas Oliemans (baritone), Lorna Anderson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)|
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
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