Amuse-Bouche: French choral delicacies

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COMPOSERS: Daniel-Lesur,Francaix,Milhaud and Ravel (arr. Roderick Williams),Satie,Works by Poulenc
ALBUM TITLE: Amuse-Bouche: French choral delicacies
WORKS: Works by Poulenc, Françaix, Satie, Daniel-Lesur, Milhaud and Ravel (arr. Roderick Williams)
PERFORMER: I Fagiolini/Robert Hollingworth; Anna Markland (soprano, piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 9394


A match is struck, a cigarette lit, the smoke inhaled and exhaled. So far, so French in the improvised opening track of I Fagiolini’s Amuse-bouche. But what’s this? A baritonal sigh. The sort of sigh a retired bank-manager might make on discovering that his kipper has been cooked to perfection. Contented, yes. Sexy, no.

This kitschy prelude is the first of several half-baked innovations in a disc of music devoted to oral pleasures. Exquisitely accompanied by pianist Anna Markland, Poulenc’s ‘Hôtel’ is divided line-by-line between five male singers and finishes with a booze-cruise unison on ‘Je veux fumer’; and Markland’s poised reading of the slow movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is accompanied by voices crooning random texts from Rimbaud and Baudelaire.

As pianist and singer, Markland offers the most idiomatic performance. She plays Satie’s Gnossiennes 4, 5 and 6 beautifully and sings the top line of Milhaud’s Deux poèmes and Poulenc’s Un soir de neige with elegance and integrity. Together with sopranos Helen Neeves and Kirsty Hopkins, she also locates a stylish, smiling blend. I Fagiolini’s altos, tenors and basses are less precisely unified, and much of the wit in Jean Françaix’s brilliant 12-part Ode à la gastronomie, with its staccato kitchen and animal sounds, falls flat. With added voices from York University, Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur’s Le Cantique des Cantiques has more juice. Poulenc’s Sept chansons sees the consort more at ease but the recorded sound is so clean that the tiniest fluctuation is magnified.


Anna Picard