Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites; La voix humaine; Les mamelles de Tirésias; Le bal masqué

COMPOSERS: Poulenc
LABELS: EMI Poulenc Edition
WORKS: Dialogues des Carmélites; La voix humaine; Les mamelles de Tirésias; Le bal masqué
PERFORMER: Various singers, conductors & orchestras
CATALOGUE NO: CMS 5 66843 2 ADD/DDD mono/stereo Reissue (1941-89)
This collection of Poulenc’s vocal and theatre works is part of a complete edition marking the centenary of the composer’s birth. Many of the recordings reissued here were made in his lifetime (he died in 1963) and with his blessing, notable among them the burlesque opera Les mamelles de Tirésias (recorded 1953), the sanctimonious tragedy Dialogues des Carmélites (1957) and the virtuoso monologue La voix humaine (1959). In these the principal soprano roles are taken by Denise Duval, their original creator – her crystal-clear timbre and theatricality perfect for the surreal side of Poulenc in Les mamelles and for the frenetic mood swings of the abandoned lady in La voix. As Blanche in Carmélites she’s marvellously supported by Régine Crespin and Rita Gorr. Cluytens, Dervaux and Prêtre conduct these indispensable benchmark recordings, all reprocessed and with excellent sound.

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Collectors will also want this set for its cornucopia of unfamiliar works, two of which are premiere recordings. Le gendarme incompris is a comédie-bouffe from 1921 featuring a farcical encounter between a policeman and a marchioness dressed as a priest. Its three male voices and chamber ensemble are reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Renard (1916) and Soldier’s Tale (1918). L’invitation au château is a set of wicked little dances for piano, violin and clarinet written in 1947 for a play by Anouilh.

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Prêtre’s recordings of Le bal masqué (for baritone and chamber orchestra, recorded 1965), Sécheresses (a rather pompous piece for mixed chorus and orchestra, 1983) and La dame de Monte-Carlo (with Mady Mesplé, 1985) find a welcome place here, as do Harry Christophers and The Sixteen with two deeply moving choral works to texts by Eluard, written in the darkest days of the last war. On the cheerful side there’s Peter Ustinov as the reciter in the 1965 L’histoire de Babar and Yvonne Printemps, incomparably stylish in a 1941 recording of the waltz song ‘Les chemins de l’amour’. The whole collection is a fine tribute to the greatest master of French theatre music since Ravel. How sad that his pieces are so seldom to be found on the stage.