Poulenc: Figure humaine; Un soir de neige; Sept chansons

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Figure humaine; Un soir de neige; Sept chansons
PERFORMER: Accentus Chamber Choir/Laurence Equilbey
Music doesn’t come more motivated than Poulenc’s for chorus. The persuasive melodies, soft-toned chords and stinging harmonic surprises, which can sound positively decadent in his instrumental pieces, take on a new urgency in works that deal with matters especially close to his heart: personal loss, the Catholic faith, the wartime suffering of France. Accentus’s secular selection centres on Figure humaine, his great cry of identification with the Resistance. In a way it’s hard to go wrong, from the listener’s angle, with recordings of this Paul Eluard setting. The music makes such sustained demands on singing technique that only a top-class choir could even think of putting it on disc. Accentus, in the French way, has a colourful rather than a smooth blend within sections, using quite strong vibrato. There is a spring in the rhythm and a finesse about the chording, coupled with a tendency to attack hard and, in the stiller moments, a rather chaste coolness. When the ecstatic ‘Liberté’ finale steps up the pace far too soon, and fails to build the overwhelming momentum that it can, it crystallises the feeling that there is more to be found in the music. The Joyful Company of Singers find it, to the extent that their mellower and more confident manner counts for more than the precision of Accentus. Best of all worlds is the Monteverdi Choir’s, except that the CD couplings are mostly Baroque. Surely better to focus on Poulenc: Accentus has two key sets of songs, while the Company has these plus several religious works. Robert Maycock