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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
The Complete Songs - Volume 4
Full contents list at end of review
John-Mark Ainsley (tenor); William Dazeley (baritone); Sarah Fox (soprano); Magdalena Molendowska (soprano); Ann Murray (soprano); Thomas Oliemans (baritone); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. St Michael and All Angels, Oxford, Feb and Sept 2010 (Le bestiaire, Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob, Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard, Fancy, La dame de Monte Carlo); All Saints Church, East Finchley, June 2011 (Le serpent, La puce, La colombe, Chansons villagesoises); June 2012 (Poèmes de Ronsard, Huit chansons polonaises, Une chanson de porcelaine)
SIGNUM SIGCD323 [69:27]

I came to this disc just after I’d heard Hyperion’s (excellent) complete Poulenc song edition, so I can’t help but compare the repertoire the discs share. Unfortunately, the Signum disc doesn’t get off to a great start. Thomas Oliemans sings Le Bestiaire and its additions with a more apposite tone than did Brandon Velarde for Hyperion, but I found his vocal colour a little unsteady, lacking a satisfying centre. Why on earth does he introduce each song by speaking its title? Similarly, William Dazeley sounds very stretched at the top in the Ronsard songs. Atributs and Ballet are very uncomfortable and, while Je n’ai plus que les os is better, he can’t touch the emotional and spiritual depth that Susan Bickley brings to that song with Graham Johnson. There are some excellent performances, though; maybe even some improvements.
Magdalena Molendowska is at least the equal of Agnieszka Adamczak in the Polish songs, and Ainsley is also predictably excellent in the Eluard songs. He hurls himself into the passion of Il a prend dans ses bras in marked contrast to the languid contrast of the surrounding songs. He is also very good in the slower numbers of the Chansons villageoises, though I missed the sheer abandon of Ashley Riches when it came to the faster songs. Ann Murray makes a brief but welcome appearance for Fancy. 

The most positive improvement over the Hyperion edition comes with the only singer who also appears on that set. Sarah Fox sings the same two items that had been given (rather unsuccessfully) to Nicole Tibells on Hyperion. She excels in the Jacob songs, injecting lots of sparkle with portions of both wit and innocence. Her portrayal of La dame de Monte Carlo is superb, capturing all the world-weary brilliance of the character whose luck has finally run out. It is a superb choice of track with which to end the disc. Martineau’s accompaniment is every bit as intelligent as Johnson’s.
The sound is also very good - close and clear with a pleasant bloom - though the songs recorded in Oxford have noticeably more echo than those taped in Finchley.
Simon Thompson 
Full contents list 
1 Le bestiaire: I. Le dromadaire (Thomas Oliemans) [1.27]
2 Le bestiaire: II. Le chèvre du Thibet (Thomas Oliemans) [0.42]
3 Le bestiaire: III. La sauterelle (Thomas Oliemans) [0.29]
4 Le bestiaire: IV. Le dauphin (Thomas Oliemans) [0.28]
5 Le bestiaire: V. L'écrevisse (Thomas Oliemans) [0.47]
6 Le bestiaire: VI. La carpe (Thomas Oliemans) [1.41]
7 Le serpent (Thomas Oliemans) [0.31]
8 La puce (Thomas Oliemans) [0.56]
9 La colombe (Thomas Oliemans) [0.52]
10 Poèmes de Ronsard: I. Attributs (William Dazeley) [1.22]
11 Poèmes de Ronsard: II. Le tombeau (William Dazeley) [2.47]
12 Poèmes de Ronsard: III. Ballet (William Dazeley) [2.12]
13 Poèmes de Ronsard: IV. Je n'ai plus que les os? (William Dazeley) [3.26]
14 Poèmes de Ronsard: V. A son page (William Dazeley) [1.36]
15 Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob: I. Chanson Bretonne (Sara Fox) [0.45]
16 Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob: II. Cimetière (Sara Fox) [2.3]
17 Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob: III. La petite servante (Sara Fox) [2.07]
18 Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob: IV. Bercuse (Sara Fox) [1.29]
19 Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob: V. Souric et Mouric (Sara Fox) [1.51]
20 Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): I. Wianek (La couronne) (Magdalena Molendowska) [2.03]
21 Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): II. Odjazd (Le départ) (Magdalena Molendowska) [1.03]
22 Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): III. Polska mlodziez (Les gars polonais) [0.57]
23 Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): IV. Ostatni mazur (Le dernier mazour) (Magdalena Molendowska) [1.59]
24 Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): V. Pozegnanie (L'adieu) (Magdalena Molendowska) [1.37]
25 Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): VI. Biala choragiewka (Le drapeau blanc) (Magdalena Molendowska) [0.44]
26 Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): VII. Wisla (La vistule) (Magdalena Molendowska) [1.46]
27 Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): VIII. Jezioro (Le lac) (Magdalena Molendowska) [2.15]
28 Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard: I. Peut-il se reposer celui qui dort (John Mark Ainsley) [2.06]
29 Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard: II. Il la prend dans ses bras 0.54]
30 Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard: III. Plume d'eau claire (John Mark Ainsley) [0.41]
31 Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard: IV. Rodeuse au front de verre (John Mark Ainsley) [1.53]
32 Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard: V. Amoureuses (John Mark Ainsley) [1.15]
33 Chansons villageoises: I. Chanson du clair tamis (Thomas Oliemans) [0.55]
34 Chansons villageoises: II. Les gars qui vont à la fete (Thomas Oliemans) [1.31]
35 Chansons villageoises: III. C'est le joli printemps (Thomas Oliemans) [2.43]
36 Chansons villageoises: IV. Le mendiant (Thomas Oliemans) [3.38]
37 Chansons villageoises: V. Chanson de la fille frivole (Thomas Oliemans) [0.51]
38 Chansons villageoises: VI. Le retour du sergent (Thomas Oliemans) [1.54]
39 Une chanson de porcelaine (William Dazeley) [1.31]
40 Fancy (Ann Murray) [1.55]
41 La dame de Monte Carlo (Sara Fox) [7.23]