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Poulenc: The Complete Songs [4-CD Set]


Release Date: 10/08/2013 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 68021   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ailish TynanGraham JohnsonGeraldine McGreevyFelicity Lott,   ... 
Number of Discs: 4 
Length: 5 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

There are many wonderful things about the Hyperion label, but one of them is the exquisite style with which they do complete editions of a composer’s songs. It’s something for which they’re becoming quietly famous. This complete Poulenc edition may not be as large-scale an offering as, say, their complete Schubert, Schumann or Strauss songs, but it is every bit as praiseworthy and as collectable.

The linchpin of the set is Graham Johnson, who accompanies every song. He also writes the booklet notes, which amount to a book about Poulenc’s songs that would deserve a place on any library shelf. Johnson is scholarly in his research about the background to the composer and to all the poets involved. His final “personal memoir” is
Read more a lovely way to finish the booklet. Full texts and translations are provided, but Johnson’s essays are every bit as useful.

Equally delightful is the way he has carefully curated each disc. His approach is neither chronological nor thematic; instead he organises each disc around a certain idea that holds together more or less well. The first disc, for example, contains (nearly) all the songs set to words by female writers whereas the third disc is very loosely focused on Paris. As an organising principle it’s effective enough, and it’s another aspect of the very individual nature of this collection.

What makes Hyperion perhaps the very best of all labels at making complete song editions is the way they combine unimpeachable quality with a sparkling variety of artists. The first disc is launched by Ailish Tynan who sings the Lalane poèmes with supple skill and a little touch of stridency. She tackles the Vilmorin poèmes brilliantly, with similar intensity and more than a hint of the erotic. She also brings exceptional intelligence to the cycle Fiançailles pour rire, skittish in the opening, strangely profound in Dans l'herbe, breathless in Il vole, richly suggestive in Mon cadavre est doux, delicately poised in Fleurs. This cycle is, for me, the highlight of the first disc, not just because of the skill of the performances but because of the depth and breadth of the songs themselves. La courte paille is every bit as inspired, though. The composer's final cycle, it is more spare than its predecessors, but every bit as enchanting in its casual beauty and its hints at child-like innocence. The final song to the moon is a delight. Felicity Lott brings a delightfully spry sense of humour to the Quatre chansons pour enfant, and her brief spell is so excellent that it makes me regret that she didn’t turn up elsewhere on the set. For all its brevity, Geraldine McGreevy turns the Collette song into a stormy ride through an endless sea of passions.

Delightfully, Hyperion found a way of involving Pierre Bernac, one of Poulenc’s most famous recital partners. Somewhat along the lines of the way they involved Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in their complete Schubert edition, Hyperion use a 1977 BBC recording of Bernac as the narrator in L’histoire de Babar. It is wonderful to have him represented, and he is as close as we get in this set to the composer himself.

The second disc features a lot of poems by Paul Éluard, a surrealist poet who engaged Poulenc on a number of profound levels. Ben Johnson's smooth, alluring tenor is perfect for conveying the poet's sensual world, most notably in Rôdeuse au front de verre. Later on, C is full of half-implied regret, while Fêtes galantes rings with biting irony. Sarah Fox is marvellous in Tel jour telle nuit. She treads a fine line between interest and indolence in Bonne journée, and Une ruine coquille vide seems to drip with a feeling of regret. Une herbe pauvre is exceptionally moving, for all its brevity, and the raw energy that opens Figure de force brûlante et farouche comes as a real surprise. She then utterly embraces the populist lilt of Les chemins de l’amour, a delectable song that might have stepped right off the stage of a Parisian cabaret bar.

Christopher Maltman sounds fantastic too. The high writing in Tu vois le feu du soir makes his voice sound ethereal without being strained. He summons up plenty of irony in Le disparu but is all poignancy for …mais mourir. He is also marvellous in the Apollinaire settings, each one a programmatic masterpiece. Geraldine McGreevy brings strength and vocal weight to Le travail au peintre, a cycle of songs setting poems about the work of painters who were contemporary with both poet and composer. The painters include Picasso, Chagall, Klee and Miró. It’s an interesting idea and there is plenty of good music in it, especially in the song about Jacques Villon. However, to my mind the cycle gets a bit carried away by its own importance. This is the part of the disc I enjoyed least. Maltman ends the disc beautifully with Éluard's Chanson de porcelaine.

The third disc claims to have Paris at its centre, but the organising principle is pretty loosely applied. Often it is the mood of Paris that is evoked, rather than the city itself. Consequently, the disc features heavily the city's poet sans pareil, Apollinaire. However, Apollinaire is merely the first among equals, and the disc also features a cycle, Airs chantés, which is actually designed to mock the Parisian poet, Jean Moréas. Ailish Tynan buys into the joke and her singing is by turns serious or sensational as required.

However, the singing is of a less consistently excellent quality on this disc. Le bestiaire, for example, is charming music, delightfully played but, to my ears, Brandon Velarde sings a little too self-consciously for the material. He is more natural in Pierrot and more convincing in the two Jacob songs, though fairly uncertain in the numbers that follow. Nor did I really enjoy Ivan Ludlow’s voice in his songs on this disc. He sounds more nasal and less clear than most of the other singers. When compared with Maltman on the previous disc the comparison is extremely unflattering. I can’t help but feel that his two Apollinaire cycles would have been better given to someone else. When you put him alongside Sarah-Jane Brandon, with whom he shares the cycle Banalités, the results are even less flattering.

More happily, Robin Tritschler sings the Cocteau settings of Cocardes with wit and good humour, and they have very appealing melodies; they are, after all, entitled chansons populaires. He is excellent in Le Pont and wonderful in Bleuet, a poignant depiction of a young soldier. Sarah-Jane Brandon creates an atmosphere in which to lose oneself in Le Grenouillère and she is equally impressive in her contributions to Banalités. Their duet in Colloques contributes a welcome splash of variety to the dominance of the solo voice.

La dame de Monte Carlo, a superb monologue composed for Denise Duval, was originally written for voice and orchestra but is given here in its piano arrangement. It's a wonderful piece (with words by Cocteau) and Nicole Tibells sings it with honesty, but to me she is a touch too warbly and a younger sounding voice might have been more pleasant … if less dramatically authentic. Her final phrase - and the splash on the piano - are marvellous, but similar problems afflict her singing of the five Jacob poèmes on disc four, where she sounds a touch too histrionic for comfort.

The final disc has the more catch-all title of Fancy, and Johnson describes this disc as “a dazzling gallimaufry of a programme”. Susan Bickley is the most impressive presence on this disc. She brings wonderful authority to the Ronsard songs, especially Je n’ai plus que les os, where the poet contemplates mortality. She is also remarkably moving in Charles d’Orléans’ Prayer for peace, and she does her best with the Lorca songs without making a case for them as great works of the genre. At the other extreme of the spectrum, Ashley Riches has a whale of a time in the bawdy Chansons Gaillardes. The Polish songs are absolutely charming: they contain more than a hint of a tribute to Chopin, and are sung with plenty of character and native inflection from Polish soprano Agnieszka Adamczak.

Maltman returns for the Chansons Villageoises, and it is lovely to hear him letting his hair down and getting fully into the peasant spirit of the songs, though he sings C’est le joli printemps with compelling purity and he gets the measure of the darkness of Le mendiant. However, Neal Davies does not sound at home in Racine’s Hymne, nor in Vilmorin’s Mazurka. It is a nice touch to end the set with Fancy, though, Poulenc’s only song in English, which is attractive partly because, as Johnson points out in his notes, it is so very un-English in style.

The greatest hero of the set remains Graham Johnson himself. As well as writing the booklet notes and organising the whole adventure, Johnson proves himself to be the most sensitive and accomplished of accompanists, ensuring that every single song is a partnership between singer and pianist, with chemistry that flows both ways. The recorded sound is excellent, the presentation is luxurious, and while experiencing this set I had the repeated impression that I was interacting with something of the very highest class. There are other intégrales of Poulenc’s songs out there, but I can’t imagine that any of them can approach this one for the overall quality of its approach. It’s also extremely competitively priced, helped by the fact that all four discs are packed to bursting point, so it’s very good value indeed.

-- Simon Thompson, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Poèmes (3) de Louise Lalanne by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ailish Tynan (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; France 
2.
Poèmes (3) de Louise de Vilmorin by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ailish Tynan (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; France 
3.
Le portrait by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; France 
4.
La courte paille by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ailish Tynan (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; France 
5.
Fiançailles pour rire by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ailish Tynan (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; France 
6.
Chansons pour enfants (4) by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Felicity Lott (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
7.
Ce doux petit visage by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ailish Tynan (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; France 
8.
Airs (4) chantés by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ailish Tynan (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927-1928; France 
9.
Vocalise by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927; France 
10.
Une chanson de porcelaine by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958; France 
11.
Paul et Virginie by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; France 
12.
Métamorphoses (3) by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; France 
13.
Mélodies 1956 (2): no 2, Nuage by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; France 
14.
Main dominée par le coeur by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; France 
15.
Le travail du peintre by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; France 
16.
Fancy by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1959; France 
17.
Colloque by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano), Robin Tritschler (Tenor)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; France 
18.
A sa guitare by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; France 
19.
Toréador by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ivan Ludlow (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918/1932; France 
20.
Poèmes (4) d'Apollinaire by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ivan Ludlow (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; France 
21.
Poèmes (2) d'Apollinaire by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ivan Ludlow (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; France 
22.
Mélodies (2) de Apollinaire: no 2, Un poème by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ivan Ludlow (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano)
23.
Hyde Park by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ivan Ludlow (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; France 
24.
Cocardes by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Robin Tritschler (Tenor)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919; France 
25.
Pierrot by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Brandon Velarde (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933; France 
26.
Mélodies (2) de Apollinaire: no 2, Un poème by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Robin Tritschler (Tenor)
27.
Mélodies (2) de Apollinaire: no 1, Le pont by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Robin Tritschler (Tenor)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; France 
28.
Bleuet by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Robin Tritschler (Tenor)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; France 
29.
Rosemonde by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Brandon Velarde (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954; France 
30.
Parisiana by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Brandon Velarde (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954; France 
31.
Mélodies 1956 (2): no 1, La souris by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Brandon Velarde (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; France 
32.
Le bestiaire: Le serpent by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Brandon Velarde (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919; France 
33.
Le bestiaire: La colombe by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Brandon Velarde (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919; France 
34.
Le bestiaire by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Brandon Velarde (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
35.
La Puce by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Brandon Velarde (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; France 
36.
La dame de Monte Carlo by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Nicole Tibbels (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; France 
37.
Poems (5) of Max Jacob, FP 59 by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Nicole Tibbels (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; France 
38.
Poèmes (5) de Ronsard by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Susan Bickley (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924-1925; France 
39.
Épitaphe by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Neal Davies (Bass)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
40.
Chansons polonaises (8) by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Agnieszka Adamczak (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
41.
Chansons (8) gaillardes by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ashley Riches (Bass), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
42.
Priez pour paix by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Susan Bickley (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; France 
43.
Chansons villageoises (6) by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Christopher Maltman (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1942; France 
44.
Chansons (3) de Lorca by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Susan Bickley (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; France 
45.
Mazurka by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Neal Davies (Bass)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; France 
46.
Hymne by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Neal Davies (Bass)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; France 
47.
Miroirs brûlants by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Christopher Maltman (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938-1939; France 
48.
Léocadia: Les chemins de l'amour by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Sarah Fox (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; France 
49.
Le disparu by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Christopher Maltman (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; France 
50.
La fraîcheur et le feu by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Christopher Maltman (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; France 
51.
Dernier poème by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Christopher Maltman (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; France 
52.
Calligrammes by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Christopher Maltman (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; France 
53.
...Mais mourir by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Christopher Maltman (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; France 
54.
Tel jour, telle nuit by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Graham Johnson (Piano), Sarah Fox (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936-1937; France 
55.
Banalités: no 1, Chanson d'Orkenise by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ivan Ludlow (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; France 
56.
Banalités: no 3, Fagnes de Wallonies by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ivan Ludlow (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; France 
57.
Banalités: no 5, Sanglots by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ivan Ludlow (Baritone), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; France 
58.
Poèmes (2) d'Aragon by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ben Johnson (Tenor), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; France 
59.
Montparnasse by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Sarah-Jane Brandon (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941-1945; France 
60.
La grenouillère by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Sarah-Jane Brandon (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; France 
61.
Banalités: no 4, Voyage à Paris by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Sarah-Jane Brandon (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; France 
62.
Banalités: no 2, Hôtel by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Sarah-Jane Brandon (Soprano), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; France 
63.
Poèmes (5) d'Eluard by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Ben Johnson (Tenor), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; France 
64.
L'Histoire de Babar by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Pierre Bernac (Narrator), Graham Johnson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940-1945; France 

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