Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Voyage à Paris (Banalités, no.4) (1940) [0:50]
2 Mélodies de Apollinaire (1941-5) [4:16]
*Bleuet (1939) [3:16]
Voyage (Calligrammes, no.7) (1948) [3:04]
Hôtel (Banalités, no.2) (1940) [1:52]
3 Poèmes de Louise Lalanne (1931) [3:28]
Tel Jour Telle Nuit (9 songs) (1936-7) [14:32]
Tu Vois le Feu du Soir (Miroirs Brillants, no.1) (1938) [4:15]
Métamorphoses (1943) [4:11]
*Colloque (1940) [3:01]
2 Poèmes de Louis Aragon (1943) [4:09]
+Priez pour Paix (1938) [2:35]
A sa Guitare (1935) [2:39]
*Toréador (1918/1932) [4:30]
Nous Voulons une Petite Soeur (4 Chansons pour Enfants, no.1) (1934) [4:37]
Les Chemins de l'Amour (1940) [3:38]
The Songmakers' Almanac (Felicity Lott (soprano); Graham Johnson (piano); +Ann Murray (mezzo); *Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor); **Richard Jackson (baritone))
rec. St George the Martyr, Queen Square, London, February 1984. DDD

As the recording date indicates, this is not a new CD, but a budget re-release of Hyperion CDA66147, originally published in 1986. This was the disc that set a bit of a trend for titling any recital including music by Poulenc "Voyage à Paris" - Frederica von Stade on RCA Victor (Red Seal 62711) in 1995, Robert White on Arabesque (Z6713) in 1999, Lynne Dawson on Berlin Classics (1758) in 2005 and Greg McCallum's piano recital on MSR Classics (MS 1233) in 2009 have all leapt aboard that particular bandwagon!

This is a pick 'n' mix but nevertheless interesting assembly of Francis Poulenc's highly imaginative settings of French poetry. It ranges from the sublime to the inscrutable, with plenty of doggerel along the way. Like many other discs before and since, this is, in essence, a Felicity Lott with Graham Johnson showcase, and Poulenc, opuses plundered, takes a bit of a back seat. But even so, the brilliance of his writing is irrepressible as he turns numerous sows' ears into little silk purses. Anyone more interested in discovering Poulenc than Lott will not be disappointed at this taster.

Richard Jackson, Ann Murray and Anthony Rolfe Johnson provide a pleasant change of voice, but their inclusion in the programme, aside from Jackson's duet with Lott, is a bit of an oddity. It’s not entirely accounted for by their membership of the tie-loosening Songmakers' Almanac recitals at the Wigmore Hall from the mid-1970s. Their minor contributions are unevenly distributed, with only one change of soloist in the first 24 songs, then two in the last seven, giving their inclusion the feeling of an afterthought.

As for Lott, she has made French songs her speciality - or one of them, at least - and sings very well in the language, also demonstrating a good understanding of the nuances of the poetry. Her voice is quite husky in the lower notes, but her upper register more than compensates. She sings with 'controlled abandon' wherever necessary - which in Poulenc is quite often! Graham Johnson's accompaniment is spot-on.

Background traffic noise intrudes occasionally, but otherwise sound quality is very good, especially considering the age of the recording. There are a couple of technical impurities, however: a very noticeable edit join at about 30 seconds in track 7 - leaving it untouched sadly gives the wrong impression about Hyperion - and another right at the beginning of track 29, though this one at least does not really affect the music.

Graham Johnson provides fine notes on all the songs, and the booklet includes all the texts in their original French with good translations by Winifred Radford, who copes admirably with the surreal, sometimes ludicrous imagery and language of some of the original texts.

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Lott sings very well in French: husky, lovely in her upper register and with 'controlled abandon' where necessary.