Poulenc: La Vox Humaine

Album title:
Poulenc: La Vox Humaine
Francis Poulenc
La Vox Humaine
Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
Champs Hill
Catalogue Number:
BBC Music Magazine
Poulenc: La Vox Humaine


It might seem remarkable that this is the first complete recording of the piano version of Poulenc’s last opera. Written for the soprano Denise Duval, La  voix humaine provides one side of an increasingly harrowing telephone conversation between an un-named woman, ‘Elle’, and her unseen and unheard ex-lover. The piano version has been readily available, but Poulenc did not want it to be performed. Graham Johnson notes that this was despite the fact that the composer had performed it this way with Duval (though maybe it was because of these performances). Regardless, Poulenc’s restriction presumably reflects that this is a monologue opera. There’s an inherent danger that performing the vocal score would confuse the work’s identity, taking it from the stage and the composer’s desired orchestral sensuality into the domain of the salon.

It is highly significant that Poulenc’s family have finally lifted the embargo on this version of La voix humaine specifically for Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson. Certainly it is hard to think of two finer champions of Poulenc’s music, and this set finally gives us a chance to see Lott’s devastating interpretation. It is an emotionally intense 40 minutes for the soprano, and, as here, performing it leaves Lott in tears. At the piano, Johnson is responsive to every psychological eddy and it is simply and tastefully filmed, the set containing both DVD and Blu-Ray discs. Just remember to allow some recovery time in solitude afterwards.

Christopher Dingle

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