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Track(s) taken from SIGCD211

Piano Concerto, FP146


Pascal Rogé (piano), London Chamber Orchestra, Christopher Warren-Green (conductor)
Recording details: April 2010
St John's, Smith Square, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Raphaël Mouterde
Engineered by Mike Cox & Mike Hatch
Release date: July 2011
Total duration: 19 minutes 39 seconds


'Spry, clipped music-making, and a lovely French programme, capped by Roge's ebullient account of Poulenc's mercurial, flamboyant Piano Concerto. Ibert's Divertissement is also sharply energetic, especially in its riotous finale' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Here's a recording guaranteed to put a smile on your face! Enthusiastic and fun, yet with touching, tender moments and a clever awareness of the music's irony, the London Chamber Orchestra delivers a witty, exuberant collection' (Classic FM Magazine)» More

In November 1948 Poulenc made his first tour of the USA with his confidant, the baritone Pierre Bernac. On it he played a commission, the last of his sparkling keyboard concertos, for piano. He had in fact composed for solo piano and orchestra 20 years before, with a ballet, Aubade, that epitomises the irreverent, obstreperous, to-hell-with-it spirit of 1920s Paris. The concerto often revisits that music and those times, sometimes coloured with a rosy, Russian romanticism that is then all the more rudely banished by the many deliberate discontinuities. It was around this time that a friend coined the phrase that Poulenc never quite lived down, ‘half monk, half thug’.

Neither was true of his sociable personality, but his music tends to the extremes that he was otherwise reluctant to discuss. His next work, for example, was the Stabat Mater, and in describing the startling leap of style from one to the other to a friend, he wrote that ‘I am as sincere in my faith, without any messianic screamings, as I am in my Parisian sexuality … My musical tone is spontaneous, and in any case, I think truly personal.’ As with the music of Ibert, so Poulenc at his most capricious either repels those allergic to its short attention spans, or attracts others who find relief in music that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The plaintive, singing subject of the first movement is subject to various treatments, some of them more dignified than others, though the procession from song to march to keyboard lionism to voluptuous romanticism may remind you of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody, and the theme itself is not unlike one from the same composer’s Third Piano Concerto.

As though Poulenc had tired of the theme, however, the orchestra skitters away with a neoclassical Minuet, itself succeeded before too long by another romantic melody, horns to the fore. At the centre of the movement is an aspiring sigh on the strings, a tiny prequel to his greatest work, the opera Dialogues of the Carmelites. It ushers in a slow section, serene and contemplative, even liturgical with its block chords. When Poulenc is in this mood, however, nothing can last for long, and the wild parade continues.

The second-movement Andante begins with the rhythm of a heartbeat. The finale is in the popular Nogent-style which Poulenc had made his own 30 years previously. The piano collaborates with the orchestra, rather than playing an adversarial role as the organ does in its concerto. Le Figaro probably got it right: ‘Certainly it isn’t a concerto at all but a little picture of manners, done up by a minor master.’

Rachmaninov returns with the gentle theme of the slow movement and its heartbeat accompaniment, though the subsequent development naturally scorns any heady eruptions of emotion: when it came to Russian music, Poulenc (and his French contemporaries) held the ‘objective’ coolness of Stravinsky as a model of restraint. Instead, a quicker central section dispels the tension and gives an unlikely context to the soloist’s grandiose fulmination. The finale is perhaps the most typical of Poulenc, with its majorminor scamper, its Mozartian good humour in instrumental conversation and diffident send-off.

from notes by Peter Quantrill © 2011

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