MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Ballet Suite, Les Biches (1922-23) [19:23]
Litanies à la Vierge Noire de Rocamadour (1936) [9:17]
Concerto in G minor for organ, strings and timpani (1938) [22:20]
Gloria (1959) [26:28]
Maurice Duruflé (organ)
Rosanna Carteri (soprano)
Adrian Partington (organ)
RTF Choir & Orchestra, Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Georges Prêtre
Boys of Worcester Cathedral Choir/Donald Hunt
rec. 1961/62, Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
ALTO ALC1411 [77:54]

This is a disc of which I’m tempted to say ‘they don’t make ’em like that anymore’.

These Poulenc recordings by Georges Prêtre have long been staples of the catalogue and we’ve reviewed some of them before on MusicWeb International. That’s just as well since Alto supply no information as to when and where the recordings were made. I’ve been able to discover some details from Dominy Clements’ review of the Gloria and Concerto in an earlier incarnation. The recording of Les Biches was issued in 1962 according to Alto, so I guess the sessions must have been roughly contemporaneous with the other two Prêtre recordings. I haven’t been able to establish the provenance of Donald Hunt’s recording of the Litanies à la Vierge Noire de Rocamadour. Noting that Adrian Partington played the organ, I surmise that the recording must have been made while he was Assistant Organist at Worcester Cathedral (1981-91):Dr Hunt was Director of Music there from 1976 to 1996.

Poulenc’s Gloria, commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation, was composed in 1959. The present recording was its first, set down just weeks after the work’s premiere in Boston in January 1961. I can think of several subsequent recordings that are better sung and played. Also, the recording, made in quite a resonant acoustic, does rather show its age. Set all that aside, however, and you have a rather unique listening experience with tangy woodwind, vibrant brass and a very French choral sound. All these sounds are what Poulenc would surely have had in his head. So, the performance, which is very ably conducted by Prêtre, is very authentic and in today’s homogenised musical world, you just don’t hear performances like this anymore.

As I say, Prêtre conducts the score well. Occasionally in the opening ‘Gloria’ section I thought that his pacing was a bit on the steady side but he still gets the necessary bounce into the music and his choir responds enthusiastically. The ‘Laudamus te’ section is perky; here the choir’s singing illustrates Poulenc’s comment, reproduced in the booklet, that one of the things in his mind while composing was “those Crozzoli frescoes with angels sticking their tongues out.” Rosanna Carteri is not my ideal soloist. She sings with an excess of vibrato and she doesn’t always hit notes truly. On the other hand, in the ‘Domine Deus’ she demonstrates good feeling and I warmed more to her in the ‘Domine Deus Agnus Dei’. In the introduction to that latter section the tangy Gallic timbre of the woodwinds is very much in evidence and it’s evocative, even if the tuning is a little democratic. At the start of the final section, ‘Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris’ the tenors, somewhat tart of tone, really hurl out the opening phrases and the loud orchestral chord that answers them is truly acerbic – though I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. In the passage that follows, Prêtre really injects urgency into the music until Rosanna Carteri’s dramatic ‘Amen’ stops everything in its tracks. (track 19, 2:37). From that point on the serene, hushed ending is beautifully done.

There’s great authenticity also to the performance of the Organ Concerto. I’m not sure if this was the first recording of the work but Maurice Duruflé had advised Poulenc on technical aspects of the organ during the process of composition and he (Duruflé) was the soloist in the first performances of the concerto. Furthermore, Duruflé is here playing the organ of the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, Paris. He knew that instrument intimately: he was titular organist there from 1929 until his death. Though the organ has its weaknesses – tuning can be fallible - it still produces a compelling sound, as for instance in the very imposing opening of the concerto. The Allegro giocoso section that follows is fast and exuberant while there’s grace in the Andante moderato which compensates for some imprecisions of tuning. In the fifth section, Tres calme. Lent, I really enjoyed the very French sound of the organ while in the following quick section Duruflé produces a sound from the instrument which, endearingly, has a touch of the fairground about it. In the concluding Largo the music has a character which is similar to the last few minutes of the Gloria. This is a performance of great documentary value.

Les Biches is deliciously piquant. Again, the orchestral sound is distinctively French. The venue for the recording had a very resonant acoustic – was it the Salle Wagram, I wonder? In the ‘Adagietto’ movement the oboe sound is very Gallic, as is that of the bright trumpet. Those oboes can be heard again, along with the bassoons, at the start of the ‘Andantino’ movement. The ‘Rag-Mazurka’ dances along cheekily while the concluding ‘Final’ is vivacious, surely just as Poulenc envisaged the music. Prêtre clearly understands the work and the idiom very well and the entire performances is most attractive and enjoyable.

Amidst all these oh-so-French performances, the account of Litanies à la Vierge Noire de Rocamadour from an English cathedral choir sits slightly oddly. As I recall, Donald Hunt was quite an enthusiast for French music and it’s obvious that he had trained his choristers very well. They make a good Anglo-French sound while Adrian Partington makes the organ of Worcester Cathedral, where I assume the recording was made, sound as Gallic as is possible.

This is an enjoyable disc. If, like me, you’re an admirer of Poulenc’s music you’ll want to have these performances in your collection if you don’t already own them. If you already have other recordings of the Gloria or Organ Concerto this disc will be an invaluable supplement, because here we have good performances in the authentic French style and sound that Poulenc would have known and expected.

John Quinn

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing