Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
The Complete Songs - Volume 5
Thomas Allen (baritone), Thomas Oliemans (baritone), Joshua Ellicott (tenor), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo), Ann Murray (mezzo), Sarah Fox (soprano)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 2010/11, St Michael and All Angels in Summertown, Oxford; All Saints Church, East Finchley, London.
Sung texts and English translations enclosed
SIGNUM SIGCD333 [61:26]
I have not been following this series (Vol. 1; Vol. 2; Vol. 3; Vol. 4) but more or less stumbled over this final instalment, which puts together song-cycles from roughly the first half of his productive years, most of them with chamber ensembles. Rapsodie Nègre, composed in 1917, is the earliest work by Poulenc that has survived. The instrumentation is beautiful and there are some rhythmically exotic pages in the rondo. Honoloulou gives a strange feeling, the words are pure nonsense, and the song is reprised in the repetitive finale. In between there is a charming pastorale.

Le bestiaire, composed two years later, is better known and it’s charming and richly inventive. The six songs, settings of Apollinaire, are extremely short. In Quatre poèmes de Max Jacob Poulenc has adopted the then current modernism. The songs are full of dissonances and the composer later claimed to have burnt the manuscript “lost in the polytonality and other rubbish of the style of 1920”. The music may be knotty but it is full of ideas.

The Vocalise from 1927 is more accessible and Sarah Fox impresses greatly.

In 1927 Poulenc returned to the poems of Apollinaire and by then he had tamed his modernism to something more recognizably Poulencian. Banalités is yet another collection of Apollinaire poems and Hôtel, says Roger Nichols in his notes, “is surely Poulenc’s laziest song".

Le bal masque, written in 1932 to texts by Max Jacob, is most likely the most hilariously mad music Poulenc, or any other composer, ever wrote. It is great fun and Thomas Allen is a glorious interpreter of the madness. All the singers here are excellent in their own ways, Malcolm Martineau as always the reliable accompanist who never puts a foot wrong and the other musicians are splendid. Maybe not the essential Francis Poulenc, but well worth buying for some exhilarating entertainment.

Göran Forsling

Track listing
Rapsodie Nègre [Thomas Oliemans]
1. I. Prélude [2:22]
2. II. Rondo [1:33]
3. III. Honoloulou [2:25]
4. IV. Pastorale [2:21]
5. V. Finale [3:26]
Le Bestiaire [Thomas Allen & Thomas Oliemans]
6. I. Le dromadaire [1:10]
7. II. Le chèvre du Thibet [0:37]
8. III. La sauterelle [0:24]
9. IV. Le dauphin [0:30]
10. V. L’écrevisse [0:53]
11. VI. La carpe [1:09]
Quatre poèmes de Max Jacob [Joshua Ellicott]
12. I. Est-il un coin plus solitaire [2:29]
13. II. C’est pour aller au bal [1:09]
14. III. Poète et ténor [2:16]
15. IV. Dans le buisson de mimosa [1:00]
16. Vocalise [Sarah Fox] [5:09]
Quatre poèmes d’Apollinaire [Ann Murray]
17. I. L’Anguille [1:10]
18. II. Carte-postale [1:27]
19. III. Avant le cinéma [0:52]
20. IV. 1904 [1:15]
Banalités [Catherine Wyn-Rogers]
21. I. Chanson d’Orkenise [1:33]
22. II. Hôtel [1:49]
23. III. Fagnes de Wallonie [1:31]
24. IV. Voyage à Paris [1:00]
25. V. Sanglots [4:27]
Le Bal Masqué [Thomas Allen]
26. I. Préambule et Air de bravoure [4:04]
27. II. Intermède [2:50]
28. III. Malvina [2:06]
29. IV. Bagatelle [2:15]
30. V. La dame aveugle [2:05]
31. VI. Finale [4:08]

Other performers
David Cowley (oboe), Lisa Friend (flute), Julian Bliss (clarinet), Jarek Augustyniak (bassoon), Simon Desbruslais (trumpet), Phil White (trombone), Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin), Gemma Rosefield (cello), The Badke Quartet, David Corkhill, Andrew Barnard, Gary Lovenest (percussion)

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