Thursday 9 January 2014

The complete songs of Poulenc - volume 4

The complete songs of Poulenc - volume 4
Poulenc Complete Songs vol 4: Malcolm Martineau: Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 9 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Not all masterpieces, but worth investigation.

This new disc of songs by Francis Poulenc is the fourth disc in a five disc set from Malcolm Martineau on Signum Classics, covering all of the composer's songs. The discs use a variety of singers and here Martineau is joined by John Mark Ainsley, William Dazeley, Sarah Fox, Magdalena Molendowska (winner of the Guildhall School's Gold Medal in 2013), Ann Murray and Thomas Oliemans. The repertoire ranges widely from Poulenc's early Le Bestiaire to the late La dame de Montecarlo, and includes his Polish songs.

In fact, one of the puzzling things about the disc is the selection of songs. There is no rationale given for the selection. But if you simply sit back and relax, there is much to enjoy in the selection. Poulenc wrote over 150 songs and it would be foolish to expect them all to be masterpieces but many are well worth investigating.

The disc opens with Le Bestiaire, written in 1919 and containing some of Poulenc's earliest songs. The six Apollinaire settings were originally written for baritone and ensemble. Poulenc wrote 12, but only published six. Here three of the unpublished songs are included. All nine are sung by the Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans. He has a lovely mellow baritone voice with a warm grainy tone. His voice is warmer and more resonant than Pierre Bernac's, but still with the right dryness of tone. His manner in the songs is wonderfully deadpan, as is necessary if the songs are to succeed. Oliemans has fine control in his upper register. Songs like the first song, Le chevre de Thibet, have magical moments and Oliemans points the poetry finely. Oliman's gives the first unpublished song, Le serpent a bravura sense of narrative. The second, La puce is more low key and and the last, La colombe, rather austere.

The Poemes de Ronsard date from 1924 and set poetry by Pierre Ronsard (1524-1585), they are here sung by William Dazeley. He has a lovely high lyric baritone voice with a fine sense of line and great beauty of tone. The five songs are perhaps not the finest, and Poulenc lost confidence in them. Dazeley's performance brings the best out of the songs, combining lyric beauty with a great edge to the text where necessary.

For his Cinq Poemes de Max Jacob, written in 1931, Poulenc returned to a poet he had set ten years earlier. Cinq Poemes de Max Jacob are here performed by Sarah Fox. The poems are pictures of country life, and Fox starts by combining vivid characterisation with text delivered at a furious rate in Chanson Bretonne and with great charm. She brings a sense of narrative to Cimitiere and earthy desperation to La petite servante. She has the ability to turn on a pin when it comes to the emotions in the songs. Berceuse is beautifully sonorous whilst Souric et Mouric has some brilliant patter.

Huit chansons polonaises were written in 1934 to perform with Polish soprano Maria Modrakowska, mostly with poems and tunes dating from 1830. The first seven are charming enough in a Chopin-esque manner but you would not always guess the composer. Only in the last song, with its austere and haunting harmony, does Poulenc appear. The young Polish soprano Magdalena Molendowska gives performances of great charm and digs a little deeper in the last song, I certainly hope we get to hear more of her.

Poulenc's first settings of Paul Eluard were in 1935, though he had known the poet since 1918 and go on to set much of his poetry. Here Cinq poemes de Paul Eluard are sung here by John Mark Ainsley; they were premiered by Poulenc and Pierre Bernac in their first recital. Ainsley opens the first song Peut-il se reposer celui qui dort with a fabulous sense of unfolding line. Both he and Martineau give a nicely supple performance. The second song is brilliantly schizophrenic, whilst the third is elegantly haunting and bitter sweet. Ainsley Brings a high degree of vocal beauty to the fourth song, combined with a lovely transparent piano part from Martineau. The last song is a delightfully busy one, another of Poulenc's dazzling list songs.

Thomas Oliemans returns for Chansons villageoises, settings of poems by Maurice Fombeure which date from 1942. Apart from the final song, there is little sense of the wartime period of their creation. Instead we have a great delight in the small things of village life, and some dazzling patter songs such as the first, Chanson du clair tamis, which Oliemans delivers with perky delight. Les gars qui vont a la fete is a jolly delight, one of Poulenc's list songs. C'est le jolie Printemps sees Oliemans displaying fine control and great beauty of tone. Le mendicant is darkly sardonic with a truly sonorous piano accompaniment. More dazzling patter in Chanson de la fille frivole and then the sardonic and angry Le retour du sergent, but this being Poulenc it is combined with melodic felicity.

The final thee songs are all one offs. Une chanson de porcelaine sets Paul Eluard; written in 1958 for soprano Jane Bathori's 80th birthday, it was Poulenc's last Eluard setting. The curious words are given a haunting and evocative performance by William Dazeley. Fancy, setting Shakespeare in English, was published in 1962 and here receives a poised and perfect performance from Ann Murray. Finally Poulenc's 1961 Cocteau setting, La dame de Montecarlo. Here in a poised and characterful performance by Sarah Fox, revealing a lovely richness to the timbre of Fox's voice. She and Martineau are greatly responsive and give a performance full of theatrical drama.

The disc comes with an informative article plus full texts and translations.

Throughout Martineau is impressive as an imaginative and supportive accompanist. And he is joined by some fine performers. There are some gems on the disc, but I would not necessarily want to sit down and listen from start to finish.

Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Le bestiaire [5.34]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Le serpent [0.31]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - La puce [0.56]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Poemes de Ronsard [11.21]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Cinq poemes de Max Jacob [8.32]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Huit chansons polonaises [12.24]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Cinq poemes de Paul Eluard [6.49]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Chansons villageoises [11.32]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Une chanson de porcelaine [1.31]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Fancy [1.55]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - La dame de Monte Carlo [7.23]
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
William Dazeley (baritone)
Sarah Fox (soprano)
Magdalena Molendowska (soprano)
Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano)
Thomas Oliemans (baritone)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Recorded 2010-2012
Signum Classics SIGCD323 1CD [69.27]

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