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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4

La courte paille, FP178

July to August 1960; composed for Denise Duval
author of text
Nos 1, 2, 4 & 6 from La cage aux grillons; Nos 3, 5 & 7 from Le voleur d'étincelles

Ailish Tynan (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: July 2008
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: October 2013
Total duration: 10 minutes 17 seconds

Other recordings available for download

Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)


‘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)
This is the last of Poulenc’s song cycles; it was composed for the soprano Denise Duval (b1921) who, after the retirement of Bernac, had become the composer’s recital partner, his Blanche in the opera Dialogues des Carmélites, his Elle in La voix humaine, his beloved friend and confidante, and in many respects his muse. Duval, unlike Bernac, was not a lieder or mélodie singer pur sang (she was perhaps happier on the opera stage) and she gave recitals with Poulenc at the piano that included operatic extracts (he referred to her as ‘La Diva’). This cycle indicates a new direction, as if Poulenc was beginning to groom her more specifically for song, and that he was being careful not to compose anything too demandingly esoteric. It was dedicated to the singer and her six year-old son, Richard Schilling. The poems (halfway between Francis Jammes and Max Jacob, according to Poulenc in JdmM) are taken from two whimsical collections by the Belgian poet Maurice Carême (1899–1978): i, ii, iv and vi from La cage aux grillons and iii, v and vii from Le voleur d’étincelles.

Le sommeil is an exasperated text (a mother whose child will not go to sleep) set very gently to music. The late Poulenc song style is somewhat thinner than in the glorious ’30s and ’40s, fewer notes on the pages, less effulgent chords, but it is always elegant, and irreproachable in terms of prosody. Quelle aventure! and Ba, be, bi, bo, bu are both madcap, music-hall Poulenc, the reworking of an old, breathless style to charming effect. La reine de cœur is perhaps the jewel of the set, simple and unpretentious, heartfelt and with a pace and depth that only this composer could muster, a shadow of past splendours perhaps, but an authentic one. It is a song that Régine Crespin recorded magically. Les anges musiciens, with its reference to the half-day holiday on Thursdays in French schools, is notable for its mention of Mozart, and the way that Poulenc subtly suggests the melodic contours of the slow movement (Romanze) in B flat major of the D minor Piano Concerto K466. Le carafon is a charming little ballad featuring the magician Merlin, an old phonograph, a baby giraffe and finally a baby carafe. Poulenc handles this whimsy with delicate mastery. The final song in the set, Lune d’avril, is very much a work from 1960 with its mention of nuclear disarmament, a major theme of the time for parents of young children. The composer was father of a fourteen year-old daughter, although very few people knew about her at the time. Poulenc’s farewell to song trails into the distance with one of his longest, yet least eventful, postludes, its C major tonality and hypnotic pace finally melting into a voluptuous dominant seventh. The addition of that crucial and luxuriously decadent B flat in the final chord adds a haunting, questioning resonance. At that very moment Poulenc’s life’s work as a great song composer fades away with the indication pppp. ‘The taste for this musical form is coming to an end, so I am told’, he wrote in JdmM. ‘So much the worse. Long live Schubert, Schumann, Musorgsky, Chabrier, Debussy, etc, … etc …’

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013

Other albums featuring this work

Poulenc: The Complete Songs, Vol. 1
Studio Master: SIGCD247Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
The Soldier
Studio Master: SIGCD592Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
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