ALBUM TITLE: Poulenc
WORKS: Gloria; Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence; Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël; Salve regina; Exultate Deo
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano); Polyphony; Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge; Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67623
There is no shortage of recordings of this well-loved work, most employing the resources of full symphony orchestra. Here is a bold new vision: bright, brassy, diamond-edged, using the smaller forces of the Britten Sinfonia. Stephen Layton’s tight control of his forces, both choral and orchestral, lends impeccable ensemble and heart-thumping excitement – has the opening tutti ever had such punch? Soprano Susan Gritton is superb, too, in her committed, soaring performances. The combined choirs of Trinity College, Cambridge and pro group Polyphony are astounding as a virtuoso choral unit, though what would Poulenc have made of them (he once expressed a rather catty remark about English choral tone)? And there are certainly other recordings with a larger, more giving, choral sound. Charles Dutoit’s Radio France choirs, for instance, bring a Gallic integrity, albeit with concomitant imprecision. Yan Pascal Tortelier’s recording uses the BBC Singers who, despite occasionally being overwhelmed by the BBC Philharmonic, provide an ideal range of warmth, power and detail. That impeccable Chandos recording also captures the orchestral sound magnificently – the opening tutti, not to mention what follows, benefits from the mollifying effect of a large string section. So does Poulenc’s 1959 Gloria still represent his instinct to ‘épater le bourgeoisie’, or had he reached a new level of maturity by this stage? Layton seems emboldened by the former idea, Tortelier the latter, and it is Tortelier’s natural balance of epic and athletic which finally wins for me. The motets on Layton’s recording are a masterclass in choral singing.