LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Poulenc
WORKS: Figure humaine; Sept Chansons; Un soir de neige, Quatre Petites Prières de saint François; Chanson à boire
PERFORMER: RIAS-Kammerchor/Daniel Reuss
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901872
Accuracy, spirit, enthusiasm, clear tone, good words… Usually these qualities will take a choral disc a long way. And indeed the members of the RIAS-Kammerchor have obviously been well drilled by Daniel Reuss, to the point where they capture most of the mercilessly fluctuating textures of Poulenc’s music. The only moment where I was unhappy was at the very end of Figure humaine, where the soprano top E starts well but ends less well, drifting down towards E flat.
The problem lies in the competition: Accentus, under the dynamic direction of Laurence Equilbey (on Naïve). Non-French-speakers will always be at a disadvantage in Poulenc’s music, especially when, as here, the majority of the texts are by Paul Eluard – the composer’s favourite poet alongside Apollinaire. The devil is in the detail. Take the opening line of the disc: ‘Les anges les anges dans le ciel’. The RIAS choir sings this perfectly well, but Accentus almost glides over the ‘le’, as the French would in speaking the line, giving a seductive energy of imbalance. And in the fifth poem of Figure humaine, Accentus manages to evoke the wise men laughing at heaven with a reckless tempo and consonants that hit you between the eyes. The RIAS Choir, by comparison, is just the tiniest bit solid.
This disc is an honest, professional attempt but, not for the first time, the best is the enemy of the good. Roger Nichols