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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4

Épitaphe, FP55

First line:
Belle âme qui fus mon flambeau
July 1930
author of text

Neal Davies (bass), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: May 2010
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: October 2013
Total duration: 1 minutes 34 seconds

Other recordings available for download

Jonathan Lemalu (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)
François de Malherbe (1555–1628), born in Caen in Normandy, belonged to the generation of French poets after Ronsard. He was the official court poet of both Henri IV and Louis XIII, remaining also in favour with Cardinal Richelieu. Poulenc’s Épitaphe thus explores the deeply serious side of the epoch of the Chansons gaillardes and Dumas’ Three Musketeers. Malherbe was famous for this literary severity and set himself against the frivolity and freedom of the poets of the Pléiade. He was something of a killjoy in fact—although the noble austerity and economy of the lines that Poulenc chose were ideal for the purpose of honouring the memory of his beloved Raymonde Linossier.

Poulenc never wrote a more austere song than this, and none that looked more like Stravinsky on the printed page; from the eighth bar the accompaniment is laid out in an unnecessarily complex arrangement in three staves with a pile-up of bass-clef chords that adds to a feeling of doleful lugubriousness. The vocal line is also untypical with a succession of difficult intervals; it is as if singer and pianist have been invited to take part in a ritual of grave importance, but first have to decipher the secret of the message to be relayed. Fortunately the poem is a very fine one, short and succinct, and there is no doubt of the depth of Poulenc’s feeling. The result is a profound song in every sense; true to its title this is an epitaph short enough to be engraved on a headstone with every word chiselled in musical marble. In JdmM Poulenc compares the song to a piece of the architecture of Louis XIII and directs that it should be sung 'without bombast'.

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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