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Francis POULENC (1899–1962)
CD 1 [69:23]
Piano Concerto (1949) [21:26]
Concert champ
être (1928/1929) [24:39]
Organ Concerto in G minor (1938) [23:03]
CD2 [68:09]
Concerto in D minor, for 2 pianos (1932) [19:46]
Aubade (1928/1929) [21:03]
Sinfonietta (1947) [27:06]
Jean-Bernard Pommier (piano), Anne Queffélec (piano), Maggie Cole (harpsichord), Gillian Weir (organ)
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
rec. February 1988, Henry Wood Hall, London (Piano Concerto; Concert champêtre); Royal Festival Hall, London (Organ Concerto); December 1990, Blackheath Concert Halls, London  (CD2). DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5220452 [69:23 + 68:09] 


Experience Classicsonline

It’s a brave company which chooses to record these wonderful works for there is stiff competition from older recordings which either feature the composer as soloist or were made in his presence. Of course, we must hear contemporary musicians in this music and it is most pleasing to report that these performances are very musical and enjoyable. 

Starting with Poulenc’s least successful concerted work, the Piano Concerto, Pommier makes the most of a rather dry, and unsympathetic, work but brings out the humour of the finale well, with its second subject which sounds curiously like “Way Down upon the Swannee River” - the work was commissioned by the Boston Symphony and I’ve often wondered if this was a deliberate joke or an amazing coincidence. 

The delicious Concert champêtre was written for the formidable Landowska and is full of Mozartean surprises - even down to a brazen, and hilarious, quote from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik in the brass. Maggie Cole plays very well indeed but the first movement is a trifle rushed and thus some of the charm is lacking. The other two movements are perfectly placed. 

The performance of the Organ Concerto cannot be faulted. Although Mozart was Poulenc’s musical God this work looks even further backwards, to the idea of the organ music of Bach which is then filtered through the wrong note harmony of Les Six and the music of the 1920s. The work is a joy and Weir and Hickox make the most of the jokes by simply playing the notes and letting the music speak for itself. Balance and sound are excellent here. 

The second disk starts with a wonderful performance of the Double Piano Concerto. This work is absolute perfection – in it, Poulenc successfully marries together his love of Mozart, Parisian Music Hall and Javanese gamelan. It’s a delightful romp, always in the best possible taste, of course, full of good tunes, brilliant orchestration and Poulenc’s own quirkiness. The slow movement is meltingly beautiful. The music really sparkles in this performance. 

The Aubade is more austere in its language, but this dance piece for piano with only eighteen instruments is in the old manner, full of a bye gone age at the French Court. It comes as a shock after the Concerto, but once you get over that it’s a most satisfying piece. 

The Sinfonietta was commissioned by the BBC and is Poulenc’s only symphonic work. There is some lovely music in here but it does outstay its welcome and, fair to say, it’s not really up to Poulenc’s usual enjoyable standard – perhaps the mere effort of having to write a piece which wasn’t in his being, brought about the poorer work. 

It goes without saying that the creator recordings Duruflé in the Organ Concerto and Poulenc and Février in the Double Concerto – will take a lot of beating but this is a very good collection, and for anyone simply wanting this music – who doesn’t? – this is an outstanding bargain. The sound is excellent, the notes, in three languages, perfunctory.

Bob Briggs


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