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Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief
|Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Gloria (1959) [23:55]
Salve regina (1941) [4:44]
Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (1938/1939)
Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël (1951/1952)
Exultate Deo (1941) [2:44]
(soprano), Polyphony, Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge,
Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton
rec. 16-18 April 2007, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London.
was 13 or 14 years old when I first heard Poulenc’s Gloria.
Not knowing anything by or about this composer - the programme
book for the concert only gave the text of the work and no
notes on the composer – I couldn’t understand why this liturgical
music was so damned enjoyable. It seemed positively sinful
actually to derive delightful pleasure from a setting of
these words. Now, only a few years later, knowing much more
of Poulenc’s music, and understanding his description of
himself as le moine et le voyou (half bad boy, half
monk), I simply love being sinful in the presence of this
wonderful composer. I know the music to be the man himself.
the death of his friend, composer and critic Pierre-Octave
Ferroud, in 1936, Poulenc made a pilgrimage to the ancient
shrine of the Black Virgin at Rocamadour, on the banks of
the Dordogne river. It seems that here he experienced a spiritual
epiphany and, rediscovering his Catholic faith, almost immediately
began the series of religious works which cover the whole
of the rest of his career.
motets pour un temps de pénitence is one of the first of this great
series of compositions. Poulenc had studied with Charles
Koechlin in the early 1920s and his insistence on the study
of the music of the renaissance, and baroque counterpoint,
start to make itself felt in the music post-Rocamadour.
The unaccompanied works are, in general, rather more serious
than the Gloria, and these penitential motets are
austere, stylistically challenging and not easy to sing,
but the depth of the composers’ feelings is always in evidence.
This short work is by no means an easy listen but stick
with it, it’s superb. By contrast, the Quatre motets
pour le temps de Noël, written a decade later, is full of the joy of Christmas. It also
contains a wonderful use of “incorrect” accenting of the
words Gloria in excelsis Deo creating an ebullient
climax and a real festive feeling of happiness. Salve
regina and Exultate Deo come from between the
two sets, one reflective and one exuberant.
it is the Gloria which is the real treat here. It’s
a late work, following the Stabat Mater (1950) and
slightly predating the Sept Répons
de Ténèbres (1961), full of high spirits and with a great verve and forward momentum.
The six movements are woefully short, getting quickly to
the heart of the matter, commenting on the words and moving
on. Typical Poulenc, never wasting a note or gesture. It’s
superbly laid out for chorus and large orchestra with short,
but telling, solos for soprano.
Layton is an excellent choral trainer and conductor and he
galvanises his performers to give everything in these pieces.
The Britten Sinfonia plays like I’ve never heard it play
before; strong, forthright and with great purpose. The joint
choirs make a joyful noise in the Gloria and Polyphony,
alone, present the a cappella works with great enthusiasm
and style. Susan Gritton sings her all too short solos magnificently.
disc has an enormous dynamic range with the biggest fortissimos
and the smallest, hushed, pianissimos. The recording captures
every note, every phrase, every single nuance with ease.
The acoustic of All Hallows Church
is perfect for the job.
have always had a soft spot for both Prêtre’s
- recorded, if I remember correctly, in the presence of the
composer, but a trifle stilted - and Frémaux’s
recordings of the Gloria, but this new version must
go to the top of the pile for sheer enjoyment value and understanding
of the work.
is, then, a success from start to finish with fantastic performances
from all concerned, fabulous sound and excellent notes. What
more do you need? Don’t sit there reading this, go out and
buy it without delay. You won’t be disappointed.
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