Poulenc: Mélodies; Aubade; Flute Sonata; Le bal masqué; Sécheresses

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Poulenc
LABELS: Cascavelle
WORKS: Mélodies; Aubade; Flute Sonata; Le bal masqué; Sécheresses
PERFORMER: Pierre Bernac, Jean-Luc Chaignaud (baritone), Francis Poulenc (piano), Edmond Defrancesco (flute), Edmond Leloir (cor anglais); Motet de Genève, Lausanne CO/Victor Desarzens, Suisse Romande Orchestra/Fabio Luisi
CATALOGUE NO: RSR 6126 ADD/DDD Reissue
Unsignalled on the cover, the Cascavelle set contains a full disc of Poulenc as pianist, from Fifties Suisse Romande radio recordings. The highlight is a recital with Pierre Bernac, showing the partnership at its peak: the vibrant, speaking baritone emerges from the remastering with real freshness of tone. Equally revealing is the way the composer plays his bitter-sweet Aubade: lyrical phrasing without rubato, and more rhythmic energy than most interpreters give him. He doesn’t mind scrambling through the Presto too fast for the ensemble to articulate, as long as the character is right.

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In the Flute Sonata there’s clear distinction between line and ornament, and a Baroque quality to the melody of the slow movement. Even with an ill-at-ease Élégie, the collection (which includes ten riveting minutes of Poulenc as raconteur) is essential listening for anybody who needs to know how Poulenc wanted his music to go, especially performers. It’s unhelpfully paired with a CD of decent performances of songs and cantatas with orchestra, the best being the bleak choral Sécheresses.

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Laurent Naouri’s album of short songs, grouped by poet, is another story. Apart from including some of the best, such as ‘Hôtel’ and ‘Montparnasse’, it is performed with consistent intimacy and, where necessary, intensity by a fine contemporary baritone, darker-toned and more operatic than Bernac but by no means put in the shade. Robert Maycock