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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4

Banalités, FP107

October to November 1940
author of text

Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: September 2011
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: October 2013
Total duration: 10 minutes 28 seconds

Other recordings available for download

Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), 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)
The title Banalités, given by Poulenc to his 1940 cycle of five Apollinaire poems, was taken from a collection of that name Apollinaire published in 1914, containing ‘Hôtel’ and ‘Voyage à Paris’. The composer found the remaining three poems in other collections. The resulting cycle therefore has a sense of movement about it, of twice gaining and finally leaving the comfort of the capital. In ‘Chanson d’Orkenise’, Poulenc had in mind the city of Autun, as he would in the Chansons villageoises written two years later. But this is not the city beautiful: the ‘vanupieds’ is cousin to the ‘mendiant’ of the later cycle, and the gates of the city close against him. After the smoky indolence of ‘Hôtel’ (surely Poulenc’s laziest song), we are fighting implacable winds on the desolate bogs of southern Belgium, even if the piano epilogue does give some comfort. Then ‘Voyage à Paris’, an even more boisterous version of ‘L’anguille’—Bernac and Poulenc liked to perform this song at the end of their exhausting concert tours, with home in sight. But finally … ‘Sanglots’. In later years Poulenc came to criticise some of the modulations as being ‘unexpected, and obviously so’. Do composers always know the value of their own music? Apollinaire’s language is, for once, enigmatic . But in some strange way Poulenc’s notes clarify it, if not always in detail, at least in its general thrust—melancholy, nostalgic, yet resigned, the regularly pulsing quavers assuring us that ‘my broken heart’ is indeed no different from ‘the heart of all men’. Then, on the phrase ‘la fin des temps’, Poulenc places a major chord. Writing in Paris in November 1940, was he saying that there would, eventually, be freedom, even if only in another world?

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2011

Other albums featuring this work

Poulenc: The Complete Songs, Vol. 5
Studio Master: SIGCD333Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
L'heure exquise
Studio Master: CDA67962Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Poulenc: Voyage à Paris
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