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LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Rapsodie nègre; Le bestiaire; Quatre poèmes de Max Jacob; Quatre poèmes d’Apollinaire; Vocalise; Banalités; Le bal masque
PERFORMER: Sarah Fox (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Ann Murray (mezzo), Joshua Ellicott (tenor), Thomas Allen, Thomas Oliemans (baritone); Lisa Friend (flute), Julian Bliss (clarinet), Simon Desbruslais (trumpet), Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin), Malcolm Martineau (piano); Badke Quartet


Rapsodie nègre (1917) for flute, clarinet, string quartet, piano and baritone is a curiosity. The teenage composer’s Orientalist fantasy shows a cavalier approach to geography: the instruments dart between Chinoiserie and Klezmer-inflected minstrel music, while the baritone (Thomas Oliemans) intones the name ‘Honoloulou’ in a manner that anticipates Hergé’s colonialist cartoon stereotypes. It is what it is, and there are hints of the humour to come in Poulenc’s work, if not the irony, charm and urbanity that distinguish it.


Within two years, in La bestiaire (here in its instrumental ensemble arrangement), there is a transformation, and Thomas Allen’s delivery of these surreal miniatures is suave and secure. In both cycles, Julian Bliss’s clarinet playing stands out for silkiness of tone, though the super-clear sound of the recording (made in two churches) veers into over-brightness. Martineau’s choice of singers here is tilted towards veterans or those who sound mature beyond their years. Relative youngsters Joshua Ellicott and Sarah Fox give characterful accounts of the tart Quatre poèmes de Max Jacob and the melancholy Vocalise. Catherine Wyn-Rogers finds a steely sensuality in Poulenc’s sexiest song, ‘Hôtel’, the second number in Banalités. Ann Murray is irresistible in the vaudevillean tragicomedy of Quatre poèmes d’Apollinaire, while Allen’s Le bal masque is faultless: exciting in the unhinged theatricality of Malvina and showcasing a fearless falsetto voice in the Finale. The playing is strong, especially from Martineau and the Badke Quartet. Anna Picard