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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4

Cinq poèmes de Paul Éluard, FP77

First line:
Elles ont les épaules hautes
March 1935
author of text
1930; À toute épreuve

Ben Johnson (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: May 2011
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: October 2013
Total duration: 6 minutes 50 seconds

Other recordings available for download

John Mark Ainsley (tenor), 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 cycle was written in the south of France in March 1935. The first was written in Hyères, the home of the Noailles; the song is accordingly dedicated to the composer’s hostess, Marie-Laure Vicomtesse de Noailles; the second to the artist Valentine Hugo; the fourth to Bernac; and the last (composed in Cannes) to Nora Auric, wife of the composer Georges Auric who had always advised Poulenc to set Éluard’s poetry. They were given their first performance in Paris in the following month, the debut of the composer’s new duo with Bernac. Poulenc wrote: ‘Feeling my way in this work. Trying to give the piano the maximum with the minimum of means.’ In JdmM Poulenc compares this process to a series of drafts for an illustration by Matisse (an illustration for a Mallarmé poem) where the artist had slowly pared down the number of lines in the drawing of a swan to a single stroke of the pen. The source of the poems is À toute épreuve, which is more pamphlet than book, printed on a single sheet of paper (in different versions, pink or light green) that has been folded in half, and then in half again, and then yet again, to make sixteen small pages that are only readable when they are folded out again into a single sheet—a truly Surrealist production. Two sides were reserved for the front title and back-page list of works, and twenty-nine poems were printed on the remaining fourteen ‘pages’. Poulenc selected five of these poems. The text for his very last Éluard song, Une chanson de porcelaine, is also from this collection.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013

Other albums featuring this work

Poulenc: The Complete Songs, Vol. 4
Studio Master: SIGCD323Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
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