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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Stabat mater (1950) [31:43]
Salve Regina (1941) [4:03]
Litanies à la Vierge noire (1936) [7:25]
Michèle Lagrange (soprano)
Choeur et Orchestre National de Lyon/Serge Baudo
rec. 1984, l'Auditorium Maurice Ravel, Lyon
HARMONIA MUNDI MUSIQUE D'ABORD HMA1905149 [42:51]

I was going to write that "these days" it's difficult to recommend a disc running to only 43 minutes. In fact, except in the very earliest 1980s when these recordings were made, such discs have always had to surmount that massive obstacle. That said, this CD forms part of the Musique d'Abord budget price series. Even so, Harmonia Mundi really are testing the "Music First" banner.

Serge Baudo (b. 1927) is a veteran conductor and is thankfully still with us. Quite apart from his recordings, which you can trace through a search of this site, Baudo was active as a film music collaborator in the 1960s with Jacques Cousteau. In his work - mainly with French orchestras - he has given premieres which have included Messiaen’s Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum (Chartres, 1965) and La transfiguration (Lisbon, 1969), Milhaud’s La mère coupable (Geneva, 1966), Andrea del Sarto by Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur (1969, Marseille) and Dutilleux’s Cello Concerto (Aix-en-Provence, 1970). He is also a composer of orchestral and chamber music. It would be good to hear at least a selection of it.

Clearly modelled, if at some distance, on the Verdi Requiem Poulenc's Stabat Mater is sumptuous and romantic. It is nevertheless modern in feel despite the late nineteenth century model. Its splendours are gigantically and luxuriously stated; listen to the mordantly rhythmic Cujus animam and Quis est homo. At the same time Poulenc presents his engaging and often movingly compelling ideas with admirable concision. Of the twelve separately tracked sections none exceeds 4:25 and the shortest is 1:04. Fiercely and seductively imaginative touches abound including the meltingly sweet, Quae moerebat with its lush and decorous work for harp. Trying to capture its style, a comparison can be drawn with early script patterns. Poulenc is in that sense more uncial than insular. His skylines and landscape are cursive rather than jagged except in the quasi-Orff celebrations of Eja Mater. Further underpinning this at the start - in the Stabat Mater dolorosa - we might almost be listening to Finzi.

War-time occupation was the backdrop to the brief Salve Regina, a tender and essentially archaic a cappella work. Briefly a solo soprano voice floats free from the body of singers. It recalls, without the element of luxuriant theatre, similar episodes from the Stabat Mater affectingly taken on this disc by Michèle Lagrange (Vidit suum).

The Litanies à la Vierge noire is a work for choir and orchestra bound up with the death of Poulenc's friend and fellow composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud (review ~ review) and with a pilgrimage to Rocamadour. This too has a few theatrical moments. Its fluctuatingly chaste and worldly ecstasies are stated with flamboyance at times but predominantly with reserve.

The notes by Jean Roy are in French and English. None of the sung words are given whether in French or English. The disc itself mimics shiny black vinyl down to visually mimicking the apparent separation of tracks.

This is a tough proposition given playing time and lack of sung texts. However, if the price suits then the musical values here are cut from the finest.

Rob Barnett

 

 



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