Poulenc: Chansons françaises; Mass in G; Sept chansons; Salve Regina

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COMPOSERS: Poulenc
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Chansons françaises; Mass in G; Sept chansons; Salve Regina
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: VC 7 59311 2 DDD
There’s no problem in commending the singing here. The Sixteen’s latest Britten recording for Collins Classics was exemplary; and their earlier Poulenc disc on Virgin (VC 7 59192 2) with settings of French and Latin texts, was rightly acclaimed.

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Poulenc’s vocal works date from later in life, often written as a reaction to the death of close friends or to war and the Occupation. They are characterised by a generous spirit of devotion, plus an acute sense of the worth of life’s simpler things and an awareness of love’s vulnerability. Their charm owes much to the exquisite poetry of Paul Eluard.

Both the Latin motets and Mass in G here are admirably shaped: throughout, natural contours emerge, exposed passages, solos and bass resonances are clear, and dying phrases are carefully controlled. The acoustic is so clean one senses something has been ‘skimmed’ off the top. Faster sections move at a crisp pace, just occasionally at the expense of words.

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The skittish folk texts of Chansons françaises and the closing Sept chansons of 1936 are perhaps the show pieces. The latter’s sudden shifts of direction are even harder to capture, so that some tracks acquire a marginally rougher character (which paradoxically brings the readings alive). ‘Belle et ressemblante’, to which Eluard brings all the tenderness of his model Verlaine, is one of the loveliest songs in the entire collection. Roderic Dunnett