Poulenc: Mass in G; Motets

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COMPOSERS: Poulenc
LABELS: Globe
WORKS: Mass in G; Motets
PERFORMER: Netherlands Chamber Choir/Eric Ericson
CATALOGUE NO: GLO 5185
‘I am religious by deepest instinct and by heredity,’ claimed Poulenc in 1954. Nonetheless, from the time of his involvement with Les Six (c1920) until 1935, he turned his back on the Roman Catholicism instilled in him by his father. The catalyst for his return was the death in a car accident of a close colleague. Deeply affected, Poulenc visited the shrine of the Black Madonna in Rocamadour; that same evening he started work on the Litanies à la Vierge noire, the first of a stream of religious choral works that spanned the next 25 years.

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All but three of these works appear on this excellent disc. The Netherlands Chamber Choir, under veteran choral conductor Eric Ericson, produces a clear, intense sound, neither pure and churchy nor operatic. It is a sound ideally suited to Poulenc’s religious music, which he saw as essentially direct and endowed with its full share of human energy – witness his vigorous Exultate deo, with its relishing of words like ‘Buccinate’ and ‘cum cythara’, and the punchy rhythms of the Gloria in the Mass, dedicated to his father. There’s a pleasing range of textures: mixed voice choir, men’s voices in the Prières de St François and Laudes de St Antoine – a marvellous rich, brown sound – and the SSA Ave verum corpus. The Netherlands Chamber Choir’s performance is hard to beat, but if you prefer boys’ voices and more resonant acoustics, try Westminster Cathedral Choir on Hyperion. Janet Banks