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Poulenc: Concertos For Keyboard / Albrecht, Bach Collegium Munich

Poulenc / Albrecht / Kofler / Haag / Tal
Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  Oehms   Catalog #: 637  
Composer:  Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Yaara TalAndreas GroethuysenHansjörg AlbrechtPeter Kofler
Conductor:  Hansjörg Albrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Bach Collegium
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


POULENC Concerto for 2 Pianos (arr. Albrecht). 1 Concert champêtre (arr. Albrecht). 2 Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani 3 1,2,3 Read more class="ARIAL12">Hansjörg Albrecht (org); 1 Yaara Tal, Andreas Groethuysen (pn); 2 Peter Kofler (hpd); 1,2,3 Babette Haag (perc); 3 Munich Bach Collegium OEHMS 637 (SACD 67:13)

I picked this disc to review knowing nothing about it but its contents and the label. I love these works, and was especially pleased by this combination; a greatest hits disc—you should pardon the phrase—if there ever was one. Yes, it comes from Munich, and German performers can sometimes sit a bit heavily on French insouciance and wit, but nothing ventured …

My heart sank a bit, however, when I saw the orchestra: the Munich Bach Collegium, for crying out loud. It sank even further when I realized that the two non-organ concertos are arrangements. It seems that it was common practice in France and the U.S. a hundred years ago to use an organ as an accompaniment for private performances of orchestral concertos. Inspired by this tradition, and some superb organs in Munich with orchestral-symphonic registers, conductor/organist Hansjörg Albrecht prepared organ and percussion accompaniments. What had I gotten myself into?

Perhaps the discovery of the year, as it turns out. After three visits to this SACD, with time-outs for work and comparisons, and I am still having a terrific time. This is inspired. Albrecht, the conductor of the Munich Bach Choir and Collegium, is a superb organist with an unerring sense of Poulenc’s many contradictory impulses and no apparent desire to integrate them. The result: some of the best Poulenc performances it has been my pleasure to hear. Cheeky and vulnerable, elegant and amusingly vulgar, neoclassical, yet given to extravagant gesture, devoted to the Baroque masters, yet driven to mischievous parody of them; it is all here. What isn’t here, in the first two works, is an orchestra, but while I often complain when producers choose to record choral works with an organ instead of the preferred orchestra, I have to say I didn’t mind it this time.

Maybe it is the quality of the accompaniment. Albrecht uses the considerable resources of the superb Kuhn organ at the Munich College of Music and Drama, with its colorful assemblage of French reeds, flutes, strings, and horns, to create an effective substitute in mass, texture, and most often in color. Maybe it is the delightfully assertive percussion played with such flair by Babette Haag. Likely, it is also due to the chamber quality—though hardly small scale—of the performances, where the give-and-take of the three or four musicians onstage creates a magical synergy. The soloists are first-rate. The Tal and Groethuysen Duo shrugs off the daunting challenges of the Concerto for Two Pianos, capturing the sparkling wit and wistful beauty with remarkable precision and sensitivity. Peter Kofler is similarly adept in the mock-Baroque Concert champêtre , standing David-like before the Goliath of Albrecht’s organ in what must be one of the oddest, and most delightful concertos ever written. The tongue-in-cheek impersonations of Couperin are particularly tart and the dashing speeds are exhilarating. What fun!

And what of the Bach Collegium strings? Perfect. This disc takes its place on my select list of recordings of the Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani, alongside the classic Prêtre/Duruflé on EMI, the mighty Dutoit/Hurford on Decca, and the romantically expressive Eschenbach/Latry on Ondine. No one will imagine that the Munich ensemble ever worked for the ORTF—they are much too accurate—but they nail the style: buoyant, vigorous, transparent, exquisitely subtle, and above all devil-may-care. It certainly sounds more French to these ears than Dutoit’s Philharmonia or Eschenbach’s Philadelphians. Albrecht is easily as impressive in the dual role of conductor/soloist as he was as accompanist, and the 70-stop Klais organ at the Gasteig Philharmonie roars and shimmers most impressively. The tempos are swift but never rushed; the periods of repose wonderfully poised and never drained of energy.

I am now making my fourth pass, reveling in the superb recording: open, airy, and detailed, with tight, solid bass, a wide soundstage and great depth in both venues. You will hear things, plucked strings in the Organ Concerto for instance, that rarely emerge in other recordings. Particularly impressive is the recording of the Concert champêtre , with the organ an imposing wall of sound behind the slightly forward harpsichord. Both are clearly in the same acoustic space, even in the stereo-only layers, while maintaining perfect balance, an amazing engineering feat. This could very well be Want List material. Wildly, enthusiastically recommended.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for 2 Pianos in D minor by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Yaara Tal (Piano), Andreas Groethuysen (Piano)
Conductor:  Hansjörg Albrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Bach Collegium
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; France 
Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Hansjörg Albrecht (Organ)
Conductor:  Hansjörg Albrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Bach Collegium
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; France 
Concert champêtre for Harpsichord by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Peter Kofler (Harpsichord)
Conductor:  Hansjörg Albrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Bach Collegium
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927-28; France 

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