It is often remarked – and few would demur - that Poulenc was
one of the finest melodists of the 20th-century, and surely there
can be no
greater advantage for a prolific song-writer.
His total of about 150 songs spans his entire creative life,
and Signum seem to intend to record them all. I believe that even
some previously unrecorded songs will feature. I don't imagine
I am alone in finding this a delightful prospect. Those unfamiliar
with Poulenc's songs may well have a revelation awaiting them.
This first collection begins superbly with Robert Murray singing
three settings of nonsense verses by Cocteau. Poulenc wrote (in
Diary of my Songs
) “This cycle … must be sung without irony.
The essential point is to believe in the words which fly like
a bird from one branch to another.” “I class Cocardes among my
'Nogent works' with the smell of chips, the accordion, Piver perfume.
In a word, all that I loved at that age and that I still love.”
Nogent-sur-Marne was the Poulenc family's summer home in his early
years. Murray fits the bill quite brilliantly.
Next comes Lisa Milne, equally brilliant in the joyful and buoyant
outer songs of Metamorphoses
and touching in the central
song, the most beautiful C'est ainsi que tu es
. This is
sung as Poulenc specified - “without affectation” - yet with no
lack of sensitivity.
Christopher Maltman sings the set of eight, mostly very brief
As Roger Nichols suggests in his authoritative
notes, “ribald” is the most suitable meaning of “gaillardes” in
this context – at least for those songs with quite rude words.
Maltman is wonderfully bloated in the second – Chanson à boire
in which the anonymous 17th-centurt poet ridicules the Egyptian
and Syrian kings who have their dead bodies embalmed, advising
us to embalm ourselves in drink while we are still alive. Maltman
is excellent throughout, with some of the best French diction
on the CD, but Gilles Cachemaille lets himself go rather more
on Decca (4 CDs - Poulenc mélodies).
Both in À sa guitare
and the three settings of Louise de
Vilmorin (“Few people move me as much as [L de V]”, wrote Poulenc,
“because she is beautiful, because she is lame, because she writes
French of an innate purity”) Lorna Anderson is splendid, apart
from a slightly uncomfortable high passage in the last verse of
the third Vilmorin setting (“Confiez dans l'espace
she is certainly not the only singer to have been tested at this
point. Also, Poulenc's demanding instruction “vertigineusement
vite” for the first song – Le Garçon de Liège
- is not
quite heeded. Before these three songs Jonathan Lemalu makes his
sole, tantalisingly brief contribution in Épitaphe
The next three single songs maintain the high standard, Murray
being most sensitive in Bleuet.
Lisa Milne is delightful
in the following Fiançailles Pour Rire
- six more settings
of Louise de Vilmorin. Strangely,“
Pour Rire” is twice omitted
from the track listings.
The two Max Jacob settings of Parisiana
sung by Robert Murray. Gilles Cachemaille (with Pascal Rogé on
Decca – see above) has a little more character and abandon but
less tonal allure. Murray's French pronunciation is very good
– and this is generally true of all the singers here, with occasional
minor lapses – but Felicity Lott in La Courte Paille
a model in this respect. Her relish for the French language -
one can really see the facial muscles working – and her sense
of style are quite outstanding, even if the occasional note betrays
a less than complete musical control.
The notes by Roger Nichols are fine, but the songs are unhelpfully
discussed in a different order to that in which they are performed,
while La Courte Paille
is not mentioned at all! It's a
pity the respective departments were not able to communicate.
There are also some errors in the French texts. Overall this is
a fine disc containing so many gems from one of the most loveable
of composers. It should be added that Malcolm Martineau is superb