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Poulenc: Complete Chamber Works / London Conchord Ensemble


Release Date: 03/27/2012 
Label:  Champs Hill Records   Catalog #: 28   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



POULENC Complete Chamber Music London Conchord Ens CHAMPS HILL 028 (2 CDs: 147:55)


Cello Sonata. Violin Sonata. Flute Sonata. Oboe Sonata. Clarinet Sonata. Sextet for Piano and Winds. Un joueur de flûte berce les ruines. Villanelle . Sonata for Horn, Trumpet, and Trombone. Sarabande. Sonata for 2 Clarinets. Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon. Elegy. Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano


Poulenc Read more seems to be experiencing a surge in popularity, one that I happen to think is well deserved. In this same issue, you should find my review of a wonderful disc of Poulenc’s choral works performed by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble under the direction of Stephen Layton; not that long ago, in Fanfare 34:4, I reviewed a two-disc set on Indésens of the composer’s “complete” chamber music for winds with members of the Paris Orchestra. The current Champs Hill set, also on two discs, is even more complete, managing to include, purportedly, all of Poulenc’s chamber works, not just those for winds.


As noted, however, in my review of the Indésens set, advertising a collection of a composer’s works as “complete” is always a risky business. A number of items for winds were MIA from the Indésens’ allegedly complete wind survey, namely the Suite française for two oboes, two bassoons, two trumpets, three trombones, percussion, and harpsichord; the Alla gympie for accordion, oboe, trumpet, violin, cello, and piano; the Villanelle for pipe and piano; and of course the Mouvements perpétuels in its arrangement by the composer for nine instruments.


The collection at hand, which is not limited to wind works, includes everything on the Indésens set, plus the sonatas for violin and cello and the Sarabande for solo guitar, as well as the Villanelle for piccolo that was missing from Indésens set. But unless one chooses to classify the Suite française, Alla gympie , and composer’s nonet arrangement of the Mouvements perpétuels as something other than chamber music, then those works are AWOL from this set as well.


Rather than take up valuable space by repeating the detailed descriptions I gave of those works duplicated between this and the Indésens set, I refer you to the 34:4 review. Here I shall address only the two string sonatas and the piccolo and guitar pieces not found in the French-label collection.


The Violin Sonata of 1943 presents a somewhat starker side of Poulenc than we encounter in much of his other chamber music. France was at war, and Poulenc dedicated the piece to the great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who died during the Spanish Civil War, a possible though unproven victim of an anti-communist’s bullet. As in all of Poulenc’s works, there are moments of soaring melody that give respite to the harsher, contrasting passages of dissonant and bitonal textures, but overall, this is a work filled with a good deal of biting sarcasm and bitter emotion.


The sonata is fairly popular among violinists, with some 35 recordings of it listed, but oddly only two or three by big-name players. Midori has tackled it, coupling it with, I’m sorry to say, one of the most inelegant readings of Saint-Saëns’s D-Minor Sonata I’ve ever heard. If you’re up for the two-disc EMI reissue of its late 1970s to early 1980s Poulenc chamber music collection, you can hear Menuhin play the piece in a performance that’s technically flawed and that doesn’t sound like the violinist is entirely at home in Poulenc’s idiom. Violinist Maya Koch of the Conchord Ensemble gives a very satisfying reading in the present set.


The Cello Sonata is a postwar work written in 1948 and is once again in Poulenc’s cheekier, more playful style. Famed cellist Pierre Fournier was the work’s inspiration, and he recorded it for EMI with Jacques Février in 1971. Unless there’s an earlier version I haven’t come across, one wonders why it took Fournier so long to get around to it. That performance, transferred to CD, is available in the same two-disc EMI Poulenc collection mentioned above.


Perhaps because cellists have a smaller repertoire to choose from than violinists, Poulenc’s cello sonata, unlike his violin sonata, has been taken up by quite a few of today’s big-name players, including Jean-Guihen Queyras for Harmonia Mundi and Daniel Müller-Schott for EMI. My current favorite, though, is the performance by Pieter Wispelwey and Paolo Giacometti on Channel Classics. That album, however, contains a mixed program of works that also includes Chopin’s cello sonata and a number of shorter pieces by Fauré. For a performance that’s part of an all-Poulenc collection, cellist Thomas Carroll and pianist Julian Milford on the present set are quite a bit better than good. Their reading wags with Poulenc’s tart, sassy tongue.


The two-minute Villanelle is so minor a piece it’s not even mentioned in Poulenc’s catalog of works compiled by the composer’s biographer Henri Hell. Written in 1934 at the behest of Louise Hanson-Dyer, founder of Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre, the piece is most often heard today on piccolo or recorder. On the present recording, it’s played on flute by Daniel Pailthorpe. Its actual intended instrument, however, was none of the above, but a bamboo pipe for which, according to Hanson-Dyer, all that was needed was a piece of bamboo, a cork, and a knife from which any child could fashion his or her own instrument. Before you laugh, consider that a British organization dedicated to piping, the Piper’s Guild, named Vaughan Williams as its president, according to the album notes.


For approximately the first minute of it, the piece sounds more like Debussy than Poulenc, but halfway through, the melody and accompanying harmony take some very curious turns that could only have been hatched in Poulenc’s ear-tickling incubator.


The not-much-longer Sarabande for solo guitar is a piece I believe I’ve heard only once before, and that was in Hyperion’s Poulenc collection with the Nash Ensemble. I note, however, that Naxos also included it in its Poulenc chamber-music survey. Composed in 1960, the piece is among Poulenc’s last few works and, as is the nature of a sarabande, the music is slow, stately, and, in the case of this sarabande, very sad. Poulenc plays no tricks on the ear with this one. It’s a beautiful little piece, beautifully played by guest guitarist Tom Ellis.


As noted at the outset, this Champs Hill collection of Poulenc’s chamber music, while technically not complete, does offer the buyer more music than the strictly wind-centric Indésens set, and though a case might be made that the French players are ever so slightly more attuned to Poulenc’s particular brand of Frenchness, the mostly English players (judging by their names) that make up the Conchord Ensemble sound to me as natural and comfortable in this repertoire as their French counterparts.


There is one other contributor to these performances that deserves mention and credit, and that is the acoustically perfect concert hall custom-built by David and Mary Bowerman at their Champs Hill estate, and of course the several engineers who made these recordings there between 2001 and 2011. Even if you already own one or another Poulenc chamber music collection, this one should definitely be on your to-buy list.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Villanelle for Pipe and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
2.
Un joueur de flûte berce les ruines, Op. 114 by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
3.
Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; France 
4.
Sonata for Violin and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
5.
Sonata for Oboe and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; France 
6.
Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1922/1945; France 
7.
Sonata for Flute and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956-1957; France 
8.
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; France 
9.
Sonata for Cello and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; France 
10.
Sonata for 2 Clarinets, FP 7 by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918/1945; France 
11.
Sextet for Piano, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Horn by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932-1939; France 
12.
Sarabande for Guitar by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; France 
13.
Elégie for Horn and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Conchord Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957; France 

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