Poulenc: Fiançailles pour rire; La courte paille; Quatre chansons pour enfants

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Fiançailles pour rire; La courte paille; Quatre chansons pour enfants
PERFORMER: Suze van Grootel (soprano); Kees Schul (piano)
‘I detest intelligent singers. I like to hear some singing with a good sauce of pedal (the butter!), without which my music is destroyed.’ Well, if that’s true, Poulenc wouldn’t have approved of this new recording. The sauce is definitely fat-free: the pedalling is very discreet, the rapid passage work in ‘Au-delà’ rendered with finicky precision (compare Poulenc’s recording with Pierre Bernac, where the semiquavers disappear into a haze). The sense of dryness is abetted by the recording, which is a little too close. But Poulenc might have warmed more to the singing, not because Suze van Grootel is an unintelligent singer, but because she manages to give her intelligence the appearance of a café-concert artlessness. At the sentimental moments the voice swells to a generous embonpoint, at the sarcastic or surreal moments it acquires an appropriate thin, smoky edge. Amid the general tone of bitter-sweet melancholy and mischief Poulenc sometimes strikes a severe, almost religious note, as in the marvellous setting of ‘À sa guitare’. Van Grootel’s well-focused floating rendition gives this just the right understated dignity. Unfortunately her tone becomes rather glassy and uningratiating when loud, but that didn’t seriously detract from my pleasure in this intelligently chosen collection, which ranges from the early surreal Airs chantés of 1927 to the beautifully simple La court paille of 1960. Ivan Hewett