LABELS: BBC Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Poulenc
WORKS: Stabat mater; Litanies a la vierge noire; Ouatre motets pour un temps de penitence; plus documentaries
PERFORMER: Judith Howarth; Choirs of St John’s, Clare and Gonville & Caius Colleges,Cambridge, BBC Philharmonic/ Christopher Robinson, Geoffrey Webber Timothy Brown
CATALOGUE NO: OA0817 D
Following the death of a close friend in a car accident in 1935, Poulenc underwent a renewal of faith, inspired by a visit to the shrine of the so-called Black Virgin of Rocamadour in the French department of Lot. Much of his subsequent choral output was religious in inspiration, including the three works performed cleanly and sympathetically here. The booklet includes texts and translations, though more information on Poulenc and the individual pieces should have been included (no dates, for example, are given for the works performed).
Documentation on the Black Virgin — a medieval wooden statue, blackened by age and (presumably) the smoke of countless candles – is stronger, with 18 minutes of interview material by enthusiastic (and in some cases spiritually convinced) experts. There’s also a virtual tour of the Rocamadour site, which unfortunately has the look of one of those video games set in medieval castles.
Generally, however, the music is served well, with each piece in the hands of a different conductor and the recording locations split between two English venues (St Wulftam’s, Grantham, and Jesus College, Cambridge). The filming and editing of the performances
is sensitively done.