I came to this disc just after I’d heard Hyperion’s (excellent) complete Poulenc song edition, so I can’t help but compare the repertoire the discs share. Unfortunately, the Signum disc doesn’t get off to a great start. Thomas Oliemans sings Le Bestiaire and its additions with a more apposite tone than did Brandon Velarde for Hyperion, but I found his vocal colour a little unsteady, lacking a satisfying centre. Why on earth does he introduce each song by speaking its title? Similarly, William Dazeley sounds very stretched at the top in the Ronsard songs. Atributs and Ballet are very uncomfortable and, while Je n’ai plus que les os is better, he can’t touch the emotional and spiritual depth that Susan Bickley brings to that song with Graham Johnson. There are some excellent performances, though; maybe even some improvements.
Magdalena Molendowska is at least the equal of Agnieszka Adamczak in the Polish songs, and Ainsley is also predictably excellent in the Eluard songs. He hurls himself into the passion of Il la prend dans ses bras in marked contrast to the languid contrast of the surrounding songs. He is also very good in the slower numbers of the Chansons villageoises, though I missed the sheer abandon of Ashley Riches when it came to the faster songs. Ann Murray makes a brief but welcome appearance for Fancy.
The most positive improvement over the Hyperion edition comes with the only singer who also appears on that set. Sarah Fox sings the same two items that had been given (rather unsuccessfully) to Nicole Tibells on Hyperion. She excels in the Jacob songs, injecting lots of sparkle with portions of both wit and innocence. Her portrayal of La dame de Monte Carlo is superb, capturing all the world-weary brilliance of the character whose luck has finally run out. It is a superb choice of track with which to end the disc. Martineau’s accompaniment is every bit as intelligent as Johnson’s.
The sound is also very good—close and clear with a pleasant bloom—though the songs recorded in Oxford have noticeably more echo than those taped in Finchley.