Although it is unusual to hear these ballet suites performed on the piano, it is often a requirement for a piano score for a projected ballet to be offered before a ‘finished’ orchestral version is developed. In this way the music can be accepted, approved and choreography and rehearsals begun as quickly as possible.
The earliest of Poulenc’s three ballet suites, Les Biches
is, in essence, an updated version of the fêtes galantes
in which “twenty or so beautiful and coquettish women frolic with three athletic fellows in rowing costumes”. This suite brims with memorable melodies with all Poulenc’s familiar sentimentality and insouciance. Indeed many of the figures will be familiar from other Poulenc works. Jean-Pierre Armengaud captures the composer’s idiosyncratic idiom to a tee. Here is his witty, wayward use of so many diverse styles: French 18th
century song in the Rondeau,
ragtime, as well as the influences of Mozart, Schubert, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky.
was composed at a difficult time, when Poulenc was deeply depressed after a romantic rejection. It concerns the mythological figure, Diana condemned to eternal chastity with no distraction except hunting. Very early on we are made aware of Diana’s tragic fate with music figures that are endlessly repetitive and restless with seemingly no resolution; one might be reminded of Bernard Herrmann’s screen thriller music. In contrast there is folk-song-like material and references to Scarlatti, Schubert, Mozart and Bartók.
Finally Les Animaux modèles
was inspired by six of La Fontaine’s fables but altered somewhat to suit the ballet and the dancers. For instance, the grasshopper becomes an ageing ballerina and the Ant an old housemaid; the music clearly indicating the grasshopper’s vivid yet hopeless dreaming of her glorious past while the more down-to-earth ant is anything but nimble. Once again many different styles are fused to make a delightful confection. Witty references are supported by sweet sentimental melody that sometimes is almost unbearably poignant.
A most entrancing album played with verve and sensitivity to Poulenc’s individual idiom
Les Animaux modèles
(The Model Animals) (1940-41) [30.05]
[3.50]; The Bear and His Two Friends
[1.25]; The Grasshopper and the Ant
The Amorous Lion
[4.09]; An Elderly Man with Two Girlfriends
[2.20]; Death and the Woodcutter
[6.20]; The Two Roosters
[5.41]; Noonday Repast
(The Coquettes) * (1923) [25.32]
Overture [3.58]; Rondeau [3.38]; Adagietto
* (1929) [21.26]
[3.08]; Le Petit Jour and Daybreak
[1.52] Diana and Her Companions
[3.21]; Diana’s Adornment
[1.40]; Introduction to Diana’s Variation
[2.14]; Diana’s Despair
[0.53]; Diana’s Farewell and Departure