Lili Boulanger: Psalms 24 & 130; Faust et Hélène; D’un soir triste; D’un matin du printemps

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COMPOSERS: Lili Boulanger
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Psalms 24 & 130; Faust et Hélène; D’un soir triste; D’un matin du printemps
PERFORMER: Lynne Dawson (soprano), Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Bonaventura Bottone, Neil MacKenzie (tenor), Jason Howard (baritone); City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier
In 1913, Lili Boulanger became the first woman to win the coveted Prix de Rome. She promised to be one of the great talents of her generation, but, having been prone to ill health her entire life, she died before reaching her 25th birthday. Her completed works display a precocious maturity providing a tantalising clue as to what might have been. Her psalm settings, two of which are included on this excellent disc, are Boulanger’s greatest achievement. In particular, the intense and expansive treatment of Psalm 130, sung here with tremendous passion by the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, is an undoubted masterpiece which places harmonic premonitions of Honegger and Messiaen within a cogent and enthralling whole.


The biggest treat is Faust et Hélène, the cantata with which Boulanger won the Prix de Rome. As with Debussy’s L’enfant prodigue, the necessity of pleasing the notoriously conservative examination board results in a work in which the composer’s more progressive instincts can be sensed struggling to break free of academic propriety. Faust et Hélène is not entirely idiomatic, but it is a fascinating and beguiling work nonetheless and it is hard to imagine how Tortelier’s devoted and intuitive could be bettered. Christopher Dingle