Poulenc: Sept chansons; Figure humaine; Quatre motets pour le temps de noël,

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COMPOSERS: Poulenc
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Sept chansons; Figure humaine; Quatre motets pour le temps de noël,
PERFORMER: Joyful Company of Singers/Peter Broadbent
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1067
The catalogue of Poulenc’s choral music on disc is distinguished, and no wonder – preparing performances is a labour of love, the former as much as the latter. Once you fall for the music you have to face its virtuoso demands. Quite often in concerts the strain shows, in over-emphasis, shrillness and forced tone.

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In the studio, with repeated takes available, fulfilment beckons. The Joyful Company delivers lovely sounds, from a full but unstrained fortissimo to the astonishing quiet chord before the last lines of ‘Tous les droits’, fourth of the Sept chansons. Fluid legato, subtle vibrato, persuasive rubato, the singers are on top of it all, except sometimes total clarity of enunciation – but then most of us can read. Where it matters, as with the surging verbal torrent of ‘Liberté’ in Figure humaine, they deliver. This intense wartime cantata, hardest of all to sing, is done with such assurance that it would sound almost relaxed if the momentum were not so urgent.

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The collection is thoughtfully ordered, sacred and secular alternating, and sensitive to sequence – the soothing Francis of Assisi prayers follow Figure humaine – within an acoustic just resonant enough (St Silas, Kentish Town, London). Robert Maycock