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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Concerto in G minor for Organ, Strings and Timpani (1938) [22:47]
Gloria (1959) [26:45]
Quatre Motets pour un temps de Pénitence (1938-39) [13:30]
Maurice Duruflé (organ), Rosanna Carteri (soprano)
Chœurs de la R.T.F. (Gloria)
Chœurs René Duclos (motets)
Orchestre National de l’ORTF/Georges Prêtre
rec. 21, 23 February 1961, Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont (Concerto), 15 February 1961 (Gloria), 29 May 1963 (motets), Salle Wagram. ADD
EMI CDC7477232  [63:39]

This welcome Arkiv release, complete with booklet notes, has instant classic status. Recorded in the presence of the composer, the performances ooze Gallic joie de vivre and élan, as well as a sometimes flamboyant disregard for accurate intonation.
This recording of the Organ Concerto has appeared elsewhere, and is currently available on a different EMI Great Recordings of the Century release. Maurice Duruflé, a great composer in his own right, was the organist who premièred this work in 1938, with Nadia Boulanger conducting. The piece, commissioned by the Princess de Polignac in 1934, underwent a difficult and extended period of gestation and revision. The end result was something quite removed from the piece for small organ and orchestra which was supposed to be suitable for the Princess to play. One of my own Poulenc favourites, there are more recent recordings and performances which eclipse this particular version for sonics and orchestral accuracy. Marie-Claire Alain and James Conlon on Erato are particularly effective, and Gillian Weir on Linn Records, as well as a very good Naxos budget version with Elisabeth Chojnaka. Comparisons are not what this review is about however. The sheer atmosphere of the whole event on this EMI recording is pungent with spine-tingling vibrancy. Yes, there are plenty of out-of-tune moments, and the strings aren’t always together, but who cares when the sheer visceral power of the organ can give you all the cheesy thrill of a good horror movie, or the spread of string sound re-orientate the follicles of your hair at numerous moments. Just take the diminuendo transitional passage at 2:20 in track 3 – there’s more than one composer today who might try and make an entire symphony on less. For its age this is still a very good recording, and justifies a permanent place in any catalogue.
Recorded in one of Maria Callas’s favoured locations, the Salle Wagram, the Gloria has a more acidic sound-picture and generally swifter tempi than some more recent versions. As in the concerto, Georges Prêtre has an acute ear for contrast, and while the choir sounds a bit rowdy at times there are plenty of gorgeous moments. Rosanna Carteri is an expressive and uncomplicated soloist, presenting Poulenc’s lines without unnecessarily imposed artifice.
The Four Penitential Motets for a capella mixed choir were written with the work of Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna in mind. The sudden and dramatic changes in the music can no doubt be credited to the Biblical nature of some of these paintings. Poulenc also revealed that he was also thinking constantly of the early Spanish composer Victoria while composing these works. Each of the motets has a penetrating and direct way of communicating the Latin texts, which cover the dark themes of death and the crucifixion, and which are filled with a wide range of colour and contrast in these performances.
These particular recordings of the Gloria and Motets may not be the main reason for wanting to have this disc, but they go with the magnificent Concerto like the fruit in a bowl painted by Cézanne. Any self-respecting fan of Poulenc should, indeed must own this disc, and thanks to Arkiv, they can.
Dominy Clements    


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