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Poulenc: Les Animaux modèles; Sinfonietta etc (BBC CO/Tovey)

BBC Concert Orchestra/Bramwell Tovey (Chandos)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Les Animaux modèles; Sinfonietta; Discours du général; La Baigneuse de Trouville; Pastourelle
BBC Concert Orchestra/Bramwell Tovey
Chandos CHSA 5260 (CD/SACD)   74:22 mins

Poulenc agreed with Elgar that a dash of vulgarity was infinitely preferable to pale inconsequence, claiming as major works of art the 18th-century French painter Chardin’s pictures of bleeding chunks of flesh hung up in a butcher’s shop. There’s plenty of meat in Poulenc’s Sinfonietta, not least in the abundance of memorable tunes, some borrowed from one of the composer’s many abandoned string quartets. The late Bramwell Tovey is alert to their quality, and especially, as often with Poulenc, to their arch shaping so that one needs to tread lightly on their final notes. Nor does he overdo the vulgarity. French brass players up to around the 1960s liked a wide vibrato, to the point that their horns often sounded like saxophones. But in the third movement of the Sinfonietta Poulenc specifically orders a trumpet phrase at one point to be ‘doucement chanté mais sans vibrato’, duly obeyed. Above all, Tovey engenders a sense of energy and fun, reminding us that although the work lasts nearly half an hour (for which extravagance Poulenc apologised to his commissioners, the BBC), it is well named.

The other main work on the disc, the ballet Les Animaux modèles, spices up its lighter moments with some of real grit and passion, indicating that while La Fontaine’s fables, on which the work is based, have regularly found their way on to the desks of the young, their overall message is often coldly cynical, not to say brutal – to which conductor, orchestra and recording wholeheartedly respond.

Roger Nichols