> Poulenc Concertos VM5619792 [CF]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Piano concerto
Concert champêtre for harpsichord
Organ concerto

Jean-Bernard Pommier (piano)
Maggie Cole (harpsichord)
Gillian Weir (organ)
City of London Sinfonia
Richard Hickcox (conductor)
Recorded at Henry Wood Hall and Royal Festival Hall, London, February 1988
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This is a highly enjoyable trio of works by that tunesmith Poulenc, who can rarely be serious without breaking out into some sort of parody, pastiche, or dry French wit, and the sheer variety of the three solo keyboard instruments makes it trebly enjoyable. The old LP with Poulenc and Février playing the double piano concerto and van de Wiele the Concert Champêtre under Georges Prêtre was something I grew up on in the 1960s. I have always had a special penchant for Poulencís music. He was an excellent pianist, spending much of his professional career accompanying his companion, the singer Pierre Bernac, as well as appearing as a soloist in his concertos; indeed his music was conceived at the keyboard.

The Piano Concerto (1949) was written to play in Boston where he was making a guest appearance, hence its final movementís inclusion of a snatch of "Swanee River" but it appears that this passed over the heads of the Bostonians not used to such cryptic messages in music. It is beautifully played by Pommier, who, at his best, draws the Rachmaninov colours out of the slow movement with tender lyricism, but whose phrasing is so beautifully idiomatic throughout. He is the only Frenchman on the disc, but Maggie Coleís harpsichord playing, a curio this and written for Landowska in 1929, catches the various pastiche styles (such as the 18th century Allegretto, a slow Sicilienne second movement, and the très gai finale) with dexterity and colourful registration. The recording has the instrument too much in the background, even for its solos, the orchestra (unsurprisingly enjoying its contributions) too dominating - a miscalculation this. The choice of the RFH organ for the (1938) G minor concerto, accompanied by strings and timpani, works well, as it happens, but it is an odd one - this 1951 Ralph Downes-designed instrument being largely more suited to Bach and his contemporaries. Nevertheless New Zealander Gillian Weir, one of the finest organists alive, and a Dame to prove it, exploits its Bach-like Toccata opening with the bright overtones of the mixtures she chooses in her registration, followed by a highly over-the-top melodramatic account of the ensuing Allegro. In the musicís more tranquil moments she even manages to make it sound as much like the Parisian church of St Sulpice as possible in her choice of registration of string and mixtures with the occasional soft solo clarinet. Richard Hickox, in charge of his own CLS, is an exemplary accompanist in all three concertos.

Christopher Fifield

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