This second volume of a projected complete survey of Poulenc's
songs – a delightful prospect – begins with one of his earliest
and longest examples, the waltz-song Toréador, which
Poulenc described as a caricature of a music-hall song. Christopher
Maltman sings it stylishly, with Malcolm Martineau contributing
his usual artistry in conjuring a whole world of colours and
moods from the piano part. With its subtle tempo fluctuations,
it's a tricky song to bring off, but the pair achieve
remarkable unanimity. Felicity Lott sings the three settings
of Louise Lalanne (- a pseudonym for Marie Laurencin in Nos.
1 and 3, Apollinaire No.2) with her own distinctive artistry,
if not always complete comfort or tonal beauty, while Martineau
is quite sensational.
The two major items on this CD are the cycle Tel jour, telle
nuit and Le travail du peintre. In the cycle,
which is among the composer's masterpieces, Felicity
Lott is still able to float some of the very highest notes,
but elsewhere she takes a moment to settle on the centre. Her
musicianship is still a lesson for all, making the fact that
the poems are more naturally expressed by a man almost of no
account, but one has to make other allowances. To find her in
her prime, one should listen to her wonderful performance of
the same cycle on Hommage à Francis Poulenc (Forlane).
Alternatively, choose the last track on this CD for her ravishing
performance of Les chemins de l'amour.
The thumb-nail sketches of seven artists - Picasso, Chagall,
Braque, Gris, Klee, Miró and Villon - grouped as Le travail
de peintre (poems by Eluard), are sensitively sung by Maltman,
though his slow vibrato occasionally threatens to distract.
In the two Apollinaire settings Robert Murray sings superbly,
showing a marvellous range of vocal colours and especially brilliant
in Dans le jardin d'Anna. I should have been
glad to hear more than nine minutes of him. Lorna Anderson has
slightly more to do and is excellent in the three Lorca settings.
Jonathan Lemalu (five and a half minutes) has burnished tone,
heard to splendid effect in Hymne, and he is equally
impressive in the completely different mood of La tragique
histoire du petit René. Saddest of all is the measly two
and a half minutes allowed for our enjoyment of the wonderful
legato lines of Lisa Milne. Her Nuage is captivating.
So, generally these fine singers score pretty high in their
projection and pronunciation of diverse texts, and their all-round
musicianship. One's regrets over the short allocation
of time given to some of them surely speaks for itself. Nevertheless,
I am tempted to say that Martineau is the most outstanding performer
here. I should love to hear him in Poulenc's solo piano
As in Volume One, it is good to have texts included, but again
there are a couple of typos in the poems. Also as in the previous
volume, Roger Nichols' notes are authoritative but do
not cover every song. Why is this?
Overall this CD is guaranteed to bring hours of pleasure - a
must-have for Poulenc fans.