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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4

Chansons gaillardes, FP42

author of text

Ashley Riches (bass), Graham Johnson (piano)
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: 11 minutes 20 seconds

Other recordings available for download

Christopher Maltman (baritone), 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)
Pierre Bernac (who must have taught these songs a thousand times, so popular are they with baritones) made a point of turning his back on the audience and engaging the student-singer in a mock-discreet man-to-man chat, purportedly to reveal the already obvious double entendres of the texts. In this way he conveyed to the public that, yes, the songs were really as rude as suggested by the printed translations, and he was spared any further public explication. The early association between the composer and this singer came to grief as a result of the disinclination of Bernac—a young man much more bourgeois in upbringing than the composer, and initially more innately religious—to extol the virtues of masturbation, both female and male (songs vi and viii), on the concert platform (the composer was later to depict the former with much greater subtlety in the Vilmorin setting Au-delà; nearly a decade was to elapse before Poulenc and Bernac re-established professional contact. By this time Bernac was more relaxed and Poulenc was far less of a tearaway.

Why the Ronsard cycle should be so seldom performed, and this collection of scabrous seventeenth-century poems should have remained ceaselessly popular is scarcely a mystery. The poetry is far less good than Ronsard, but this is precisely what appeals to Poulenc—and the result is a much more characteristic piece of music. The texts have a chic literary pedigree of course—they appear in the third and supplementary fourth volume (‘Choix de chansons joyeuses’) of Chevalier Monet’s Anthologie françoise [sic], 1765 (the first volume of which is the source for Mozart’s two songs in French, Oiseaux, si tous les ans and Dans un bois solitaire). The tradition of Chansons gaillardes of this outrageous kind is a time-honoured one in French literature. Singing them on the recital platform is another matter. What seemed deliciously ‘osé’ when I first performed these songs in 1975 is now far less hilarious; ‘épater la bourgeoisie’ was much more fun for Poulenc in 1926 than if he had lived, as we do, in an age of pornographic surfeit. The songs are good despite, rather than on account of, their obscenities. The composer counsels against the smuttiness of ‘knowing winks’ in performance, but those songs in implacable tempi are impossible to distort in such a manner, and it would take an exceptionally bold and vulgar singer to act out the slow ones. What makes this cycle effective in performance is the rhythmic drive of the music, the virtuosic pianism and the welcome fact that the web of motifs of the Ronsard has been replaced by a stream of vocal melody. Poulenc is now writing his own folksongs, as Ravel remarked. The poems, incidentally, are all parodies of contemporary seventeenth-century airs where well-known words were ousted by these suggestive replacements. Although Poulenc pays no attention to the original tunes given in the anthology, his musical means throughout are simple and direct while remaining challenging, especially so far as the accompaniments are concerned.

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
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