COMPOSERS: Francis Poulenc
LABELS: OUR Recordings
ALBUM TITLE: Poulenc Sept Chansons
WORKS: Sept chansons; Quatre petites prières de Saint François d’Assise; Un soir de neige, etc
PERFORMER: Danish National Vocal Ensemble/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: 8226906
No one is pretending Poulenc’s mélodies and instrumental music are without their performing problems. But, rather curiously, he left many of his most fearsome challenges for his choral music: in phrasing, balance, articulation, register and, above all, tuning. For every piece that sits comfortably in a modal armchair, there’s another that stuns with chromatic leaps and bounds – and often the two styles interlock.
So one approaches every new recording of this repertoire with slight trepidation. Twenty seconds is usually enough. As it was here. After which all I could say was ‘Hoorah!’ And I went on saying it, interspersed every now and again with ‘Wow!’ (initially the soprano top B on track 4). I see I’m now less than half way through the review, and I suppose if I just went on writing ‘Hoorah!’ and ‘Wow!’ my editor might have to reduce my fee, which of course would be a serious matter. But really my only cavil is over a few errors in the printed French and Latin texts. Of the performances, I have to say this is some of the most beautiful and moving choral singing I have ever heard. I suppose you could query the performance of the secular items in a resonant church. But it doesn’t worry me, given the spirit and energy of the singing. Words too are crystal clear, with excellent French. Am I allowed to say ‘Hoorah!’ and ‘Wow!’ once more? Next stop, please, Figure humaine.