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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Mélodies
Songs from:-
Banalités
Chansons Villageoises
Tel Jour Telle Nuit
Chansons Gaillardes
Calligrammes

Pierre-Yves Pruvot, baritone, Charles Bouisset, piano
Recorded at Villa Louvigny, Luxembourg December 2000
TIMPANI 1C1061 [58:50]
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Poulenc’s songs – his ‘mélodies’ – form the core of his output. In the UK he is probably best known for his orchestral and chamber music, but in France, it is the mélodies for which he is most celebrated. Easy to understand, because he had an undeniable feel for poetry, and a sensibility which had an unerring ‘nose’ for the emotional heart of a poem. He was also a wonderful composer for the voice, and, though his vocal lines are often challenging, they are also always grateful to sing.

The songs on this disc cover a twenty-two year span, from the Chansons Gaillardes of 1926 to the Calligrammes of 1948. Many of them have Poulenc’s characteristic wit or frivolity, but also included is one of his finest cycles, Tel Jour Telle Nuit, with its complex, allusive poems by Paul Eluard on aspects of separation and loss. The singer here, Pierre-Yves Pruvot, has a fine baritone voice, and many of the other qualities necessary to project these great songs, and is ably accompanied by Charles Bouisset. Pruvot’s approach is very forthright, very honest. I felt there was something missing, though, and to try to identify it, I listened to Pierre Bernac’s performance of the cycle, accompanied by the composer. Totally different performer, totally different voice. Yet there is an almost consciously prosaic quality to Pruvot, so different from the infinitely flexible, super-sensitive readings of Bernac.

This is a matter of taste, of course. There is no doubting Pruvot’s musicianship, and the splendour of his instrument. In the lighter songs, any shortcomings are less noticeable, though there is a lack of ‘devil’ here and there, and the humour can seem a little heavy-handed. But the more inward songs call for greater flexibility and subtlety in the phrasing and in the colouring of the text. There is too a certain lack of sensuousness in the gracious curves of the beautiful Vers le Sud of Calligrammes.

However, there is much to admire; singer and pianist are at their best in the solemn intensity of a little song such as the Invocation of the Chansons Gaillardes, or in the simplicity of L’Offrande in the same cycle. This is, in the best sense, very ‘modern’ singing, and makes a useful comparison and contrast with the more familiar older generation of interpreters.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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