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Track(s) taken from CDA67623

Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence

late 1938 to early 1939
author of text
Nos 2-4: Matins Responsories for Good Friday (No 2), Holy Saturday (No 3), Maundy Thursday (No 4)

Polyphony, Stephen Layton (conductor)
Recording details: April 2007
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Mike Hatch
Release date: March 2008
Total duration: 14 minutes 4 seconds

Cover artwork: The Closed Eyes (1890) by Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Musée d'Orsay, Paris / Lauros / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Other recordings available for download

Westminster Cathedral Choir, James O'Donnell (conductor)
The Cambridge Singers, John Rutter (conductor)


'From the very outset of the Gloria it's clear that this is a performance of real distinction … the 38 voices of Polyphony are augmented by 31 from Trinity College, Cambridge, while an unusually hefty contingent of orchestral players makes up the Britten Sinfonia on the disc. What results is not only music-making of immense power and vibrancy—but also an ability, brilliantly directed by Layton, to capture Poulenc's 'half hooligan, half monk' musical persona … then, in the final chorus of the Gloria, after the boisterous start, we have a moment of profound sanctity and another, crowned with incredible delicacy by Susan Gritton, of mouth-watering enchantment … it is the vivid sense of unfettered joy in the Gloria and the matchless intensity of feeling revealed in the motets that make this such a gloriously distinguished disc … the performers here leap out of the speakers with this unashamedly ebullient account of Poulenc's Gloria' (Gramophone)

'Stephen Layton's tight control of his forces, both choral and orchestral, lends impeccable ensemble and heart-thumping excitement—has the opening tutti ever had such punch? Soprano Susan Gritton is superb, too, in her committed, soaring performances. The combined choirs of Trinity College, Cambridge and pro group Polyphony are astounding as a virtuoso choral unit … the motets on Layton's recording are a masterclass in choral singing' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Poulenc's riotously wild, spiky and humorous Gloria is given a marvellously fresh interpretation here by Polyphony and the choir of Trinity College, with Susan Gritton a glorious ethereal presence, floating above the texture like a gossamer-winged angel. But perhaps the real interest in this disc lies in the more unfamiliar motets. Each is an exquisite example of Poulenc's daring choral writing, handled here by Polyphony with the same subtlety and skill they brought to their Bruckner Hyperion disc last year' (The Observer)

'This is a real treat. Polyphony brings its characteristic incisiveness, precision and evenness of tone to Poulenc's unaccompanied Lenten and Christmas motets, Salve regina and Exultate Deo. But it is the account of the Gloria … that makes this a real must-buy. For this, Polyphony is joined by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, where Stephen Layton presides as director of music, along with the taut playing of the Britten Sinfonia. To cap it all, Susan Gritton sears the heart in her solos, while the church recording gives the whole enterprise a reverent halo' (The Daily Telegraph)

'If there's a recording out there that does more to honor Poulenc's intentions in his spiky, delightfully off-centred setting of the church's ode to the glory of God, I haven't heard it … Domine Deus and other introspective interludes exude real spiritual intensity, the soprano is terrific, and the choir lets the emotions fly with total commitment. Hyperion catches it all … without question, this heads straight to the head of the Poulenc Gloria class' (American Record Guide)

'The Gloria … radiates a kind of blazing intensity second to none. Quite how Stephen Layton gets the singers of his hand-picked choir Polyphony to generate such white heat in a draughty North London chruch on a wet mid-week morning I do not know, but he does … this Gloria is recorded throughout with wonderful vocal and instrumental clarity and definition: precision of ensemble and intonation is absolute, the sound spellbinding—the dynamic range is breathtaking, but the recording has no trouble coping. It's an exhilarating listen; and on top of all that, Layton's chosen soloist is a joy, too. Susan Gritton soars ethereally above the stave in the two 'Domine Deus' movements, her sweetness of tone and so-discreet portamento ideal for Poulenc … the more sombre mood of the four unaccompanied Lenten motets is superbly caught: the effect in, for instance, the wonderful 'Vinea mea electa' is almost heart-rending, a powerful but despairing cry from the heart. There have been various fine versions of the Gloria over the years … I doubt if many of them can hold a candle to this one' (International Record Review)

'This beautifully produced disc … the best-known work here is the Gloria, in which Stephen Layton and his choir do not attempt to disguise the work's debt to Stravinsky, and in which Susan Gritton's soaring soprano adds the finishing touches … this collection is all exquisitely done' (The Guardian)

'Conductor Stephen Layton's sentient performance is graced by Susan Gritton's ethereal soprano solos and rounded off with some of Poulenc's more solemn a cappella motets' (The Independent on Sunday)

'A thrilling acoustic captures Layton and his forces revelling in Poulenc's punchy rhythms and pungent harmonies. Soloist Susan Gritton is … soaring and ecstatic in the 'Qui sedes' … it's all superbly performed' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Trying to decide where best to start in praising this disc was my most difficult task, as everyone involved sounds truly involved. Stephen Layton is a marvelous conductor; not only are his tempos good and his textures clear, but the Britten Sinfonia plays with real gusto. His vocal group, Polyphony, and the trinity College choir sing not only with an excellent vocal blend but also with emotional involvement … and soprano Susan Gritton … sings with tremendous feeling. This is a truly alive recording … this one can definitely hold its own' (Fanfare, USA)

'Poulenc became one of the great sacred choral composers of the twentieth century. Gloria (1959) for mixed choir, soprano and orchestra is an example of his mastery of synthesizing a restrained yet joyful ecstasy with twentieth century spikiness. By reducing the forces in this recording, Stephen Layton reveals their dissonance without mitigating their heartfelt religious spirit. The result is a freshness and clarity that sheds new light on this work. Susan Gritton’s soprano voice … soars above the choral forces in a way that emphasizes the work’s ardor. The recording, made in All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, is a perfect combination of immediacy and religious resonance that clarifies the musical forces without lessening ambience. This is a significant and groundbreaking recording of this great work' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'It's not that more choirs wouldn't love to perform these works, but for many they are just over the line of difficulty—demanding an extraordinarily solid vocal technique and an ensemble with exceptional sensitivity to expressive details … not surprisingly, Polyphony joins the short list of excellent choirs who've recorded the motets with first-rate performances … energy and spontaneity along with equal vocal virtuosity' (Classics Today)

'Layton's recording comes very close to perfection and certainly represents one of the 'must-have' CDs of the year so far' (Musical Criticism.com)
It was the cappella style, following the choral/orchestral surrealist settings Sécheresses of 1937, that Poulenc fully settled into with his Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence in the second half of 1938 and early 1939.

The third and fourth in Poulenc’s ordering were written first, and they are the more stylistically progressive. Tenebrae factae sunt—dedicated to the great compositional mentor Nadia Boulanger, who conducted the first performance in December 1938 of his Organ Concerto—is a collage of abrupt mood-shifts. There is no other moment on this disc to compare with the sopranos’ stark chromatic descent on the words ‘exclamavit Jesus’, the angular, similarly chromatic phrase for ‘Et inclinato capite’ first heard in the tenors, or the tight set of descending parallel chords for the word ‘ait’. Equally unusual, in the context of this recording’s repertoire, are moments of the fourth motet Tristis est anima mea. With particular responsiveness to the text, Poulenc creates a hushed, fleeting disquiet for ‘Vos fugam capietis’ (marked vif et inquiet and mystérieux), rare semiquaver melismas on ‘et ego vadam’, and the only instance here of nine-part divisi writing on the final page. All of this points towards Poulenc’s twelve-part tour de force of a cappella writing, Figure humaine from 1943.

The first two Lenten motets, Timor et tremor and Vinea mea electa, create their own very finely articulated moods, though within more modest musical parameters. So much of what was to become Poulenc’s trademark choral style is established here: the sharply defined dynamic contrasts, phrase-by-phrase; block-like shifts from one textural grouping to another; a persistently unsettled meter, with 3/4 or 5/4 bars regularly cutting across an apparently flowing 4/4; and distinctive, often ingenious chord progressions. Timor et tremor, appropriately, is an edgy, dark imprecation, while Vinea mea electa contrasts the tender opening (marked excessivement doux on its return) with the anguish and outburst of ‘ut me crucifigeres’ (sung with calm resignation) going into ‘et Barrabam dimitteres’ (a sudden forte).

from notes by Meurig Bowen © 2008

Ce fut le style a cappella, postérieur aux surréalistes Sécheresses choralo-orchestrales de 1937, que Poulenc implanta pleinement dans ses Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (seconde moitié de 1938–début de 1939).

Les troisième et quatrième motets furent en fait écrits en premier et apparaissent comme les plus progressistes stylistiquement. Tenebrae factae sunt—dédié au grand mentor Nadia Boulanger, qui dirigea en décembre 1938 la première du Concerto pour orgue de Poulenc—est un collage de brusques sautes d’humeur. Rien dans ce disque n’égale l’abrupte descente chromatique des sopranos à «exclamavit Jesus», la phrase saccadée, pareillement chromatique, à «Et inclinato capite», exposée aux ténors, ou la série rapprochée d’accords parallèles descendants au mot «ait». Tout aussi inhabituels dans le contexte du présent répertoire sont certains moments du quatrième motet, Tristis est anima mea. Montrant une sensibilité particulière envers le texte, Poulenc façonne une inquiétude étouffée, fugace pour «Vos fugam capietis» (marqué vif et inquiet et mystérieux), de rares mélismes en doubles croches sur «et ego vadam» et l’unique exemple ici d’une écriture divisi à neuf parties (page finale). Voilà qui annonce le tour de force à douze parties d’une écriture a cappella, celle de Figure humaine (1943).

Les deux premiers motets de Carême, Timor et tremor et Vinea mea electa, génèrent leurs propres climats très subtilement articulés, bien que confinés à des paramètres musicaux plus modestes. On y trouve l’essentiel de ce qui fera la griffe du style choral poulencquien: les contrastes dynamiques bien définis, phrase par phrase; les changements en blocs d’un groupe de texture à un autre; un mètre constamment instable, avec des mesures à 3/4 ou à 5/4 croisant régulièrement un 4/4 en apparence flottant; et des progressions harmoniques singulières, souvent ingénieuses. Timor et tremor est, pertinemment, une imprécation sombre et nerveuse, cependant que Vinea mea electa oppose à son tendre commencement (marqué excessivement doux à sa reprise) l’angoisse et les bouffées de «ut me crucifigeres» (chanté avec une calme résignation) pour atteindre «et Barrabam dimitteres» (un soudain forte).

extrait des notes rédigées par Meurig Bowen © 2008
Français: Hypérion

In der Nachfolge der surrealistischen Vertonungen Sécheresses für Chor und Orchester 1937 versenkte Poulenc sich mit den Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence im zweiten Halbjahr von 1938 und Anfang 1939 ganz in a cappella-Stil.

Die dritte und vierte Motette in Poulencs Reihenfolge wurden zuerst geschrieben und sind stilistisch progressiver. Tenebrae factae sunt—der großen Komponistenmentorin Nadia Boulanger gewidmet, die die Uraufführung seines Orgelkonzerts im Dezember 1938 dirigierte—ist eine Collage abrupter Stimmungsschwankungen. Auf dieser CD gibt es keinen anderen Moment, der sich mit dem krassen chromatischen Abstieg der Soprane auf die Worte „exclamavit Jesus“, der kantigen, ähnlich chromatischen Phrase für „Et inclinato capite“, die zuerst im Tenor zu hören ist, oder dem strengen Satz in absteigende parallele Akkorden auf das Wort „ait“ vergleichen lässt. Ähnlich ungewöhnlich im Kontext des Repertoires auf dieser CD sind Momente in der vierten Motette, Tristis est anima mea. Mit besonderer Sensibilität für den Text kreiert Poulenc eine verhaltene, flüchtige Unruhe für „Vos fugam capietis“ (mit vif et inquiet and mystérieux markiert), rare Sechzehntel-Melismen auf „et ego vadam“ und auf der letzten Seite das einzige Beispiel hier für neunstimmigen divisi-Satz. All dies weist auf Poulencs 12-stimmige Tour de force der a cappella-Komposition, Figure humaine von 1943 voraus.

Die ersten beiden Fasten-Motetten Timor et tremor und Vinea mea electa erzeugen ihre eigene, fein artikulierte Stimmung, wenn auch innerhalb bescheidenerer musikalischer Parameter. Ein Großteil dessen, was Poulencs typischen Chorstil kennzeichnet, ist hier bereits etabliert: die Phrase für Phrase scharf definierten dynamischen Kontraste; blockhafte Verschiebungen von einer strukturellen Gruppe zur nächsten; ein stets wechselndes Metrum, in dem 2/4- oder 5/4-Takte regelmäßig einen scheinbar fließenden 4/4-Takt durchkreuzen und eigenartige, oft ingeniöse Akkordfolgen. Timor et tremor ist entsprechend eine unruhige, düstere Verwünschung, während Vinea mea electa den zarten Anfang (bei seiner Rückkehr mit excessivement doux markiert) mit der Qual und dem Ausbruch des (mit stiller Resignation gesungenen) „ut me crucifigeres“ kontrastiert, das (mit plötzlichem Forte) in „Barrabam dimitteres“ übergeht.

aus dem Begleittext von Meurig Bowen © 2008
Deutsch: Renate Wendel

Other albums featuring this work

Poulenc: Gloria & other sacred music
CSCD506Download only
Poulenc: Mass & Motets
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