Poulenc: La voix humaine; La dame de Monte-Carlo

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COMPOSERS: Poulenc
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: La voix humaine; La dame de Monte-Carlo
PERFORMER: Felicity Lott (soprano); Suisse Romande Orchestra/Armin Jordan
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901759
Poulenc’s ‘lyric tragedy’ La voix humaine dates from 1959, but its music recalls less those heady serialist days than composers of many years earlier: Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé are frequently echoed. If Poulenc sometimes has difficulty sounding like himself rather than the aggregate of his forebears, the premise, at least, of his opera is modern through and through – there is only one performer, a woman who speaks on the phone to her ex-lover, pleading and cajoling, discussing a suicide attempt, and having to cope with constant interruptions to the line which require fierce remonstrations with the operator. The text by Jean Cocteau exploits brilliantly the telephone’s capacity for engendering catastrophic misunderstanding. If nowadays we have less recourse to an operator, it is only because the operator has been replaced by an automated menu of choices – which never seems to include the option we really desire. Felicity Lott – who so often excels in French repertoire – is wonderfully convincing as the distressed caller. She maintains a crisis atmosphere of barely contained hysteria, punctuated by episodes of sentimental reverie as she attempts to remind her interlocutor of happier times. The piece needs a tour de force performance, and gets one. Armin Jordan and the Suisse Romande Orchestra supply faultless accompaniment. The piece was recorded by its first interpreter, Denise Duval, in the year of the premiere. Her interpretation is if anything more urgent and agitated than Lott’s; but I would personally go for the latter.

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