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Poulenc: Stabat Mater; Les Biches / Deneve, Stuttgart Radio Symphony

Poulenc / Petersen / Ndr Chor; Deneve
Release Date: 01/29/2013 
Label:  Hänssler Classic   Catalog #: 93297   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Marlis Petersen
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Radio Symphony OrchestraNorth German Radio ChorusStuttgart Southwest German Radio Vocal Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

POULENC Stabat Mater. 1 Les biches Stéphane Dénève, cond; 1 Marlis Petersen (sop); Stuttgart RSO; North German Radio Ch; Stuttgart SW German Radio Vocal Ens HÄNSSLER 93.297 (64:47)

Poulenc has been receiving a good deal of attention on disc lately, no doubt due to 2013 being the 50th anniversary of his death in 1963. But whatever the reason for the recent uptick Read more in recordings of his chamber, vocal, and choral music, I’m always receptive to new Poulenc releases, especially when they’re as fine as this one. It surprised me to find that the Stabat Mater isn’t even among the top five on the hit parade of Poulenc’s choral works. In order of popularity—as judged by numbers of recordings—they are the Gloria, the Motets pour le temps de Noël , the Litanies à la vierge noire de Rocamadour , the Salve Regina , and the Petites prières de Saint François d’Assise.

Almost all of Poulenc’s choral works are settings of liturgical texts. His outpouring of these works began in 1936, following the death of composer and friend Pierre-Octave Ferroud and Poulenc’s visit to the shrine of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour. But it was another death, that of artist and friend Christian Bérard in 1949 that sparked the composition of the Stabat Mater , which was completed two months later in 1950.

Poulenc divided the text into 12 sections or stanzas, each of fairly short duration. A soprano soloist appears in only three of the stanzas, Vidit suum (6), Fac ut portem (10), and Quando corpus (12). Typical of the composer, some of the sections are of heartbreaking beauty—the opening Stabat mater dolorosa and O quam tristis , for example; while others, like Cujus animam and Quis est homo , are tumultuous and operatic in their dramatic scene painting; and still others, like Eja Mater , are festive, sounding like something you’d hear carolers singing at Christmas time in the mall.

No matter who is performing the piece—from Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on Telarc, to George Prêtre with Barbara Hendricks and the French National Orchestra and Chorus on EMI, to Richard Hickox leading Catherine Dubosc and the City of London Sinfonia and Westminster Singers—it never fails to move me. And that goes for the current performance by Stéphane Dénève, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony’s new principal conductor, leading the orchestra, soprano Marlis Petersen, and the choral forces for this Hänssler recording. It’s very beautifully and very sensitively done.

Pairing the Stabat Mater with Poulenc’s one-act slightly risqué ballet, Les biches , is unusual, to say the least, perhaps even unprecedented. From the mainly devotional tone of the Virgin Mary weeping at the Cross, we’re transported, in Poulenc’s own words, to a “contemporary drawing room party suffused with an atmosphere of wantonness, which you sense if you are corrupted, but of which an innocent-minded girl would not be conscious”

Les biches translates as “does,” as in female deer, but which, according to the insert note carries a connotation in French of “loose girls.” The score is composed of nine brief sets or tableaux in which ladies in the formal setting of an 18th-century drawing room coyly tease and toy with three men in swim suits to music that just as coyly teases and toys with Scarlatti, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky. As in Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé , Poulenc makes use of an offstage chorus.

This is a wonderful performance of the piece which captures both the subtle eroticism of the score and Poulenc’s characteristic flippancy. And with the Stabat Mater on the same disc, with the push of a button, you can go from mourning to merriment. Very strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Stabat mater by Francis Poulenc
Performer:  Marlis Petersen (Soprano)
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra,  North German Radio Chorus,  Stuttgart Southwest German Radio Vocal Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; France 
Les biches by Francis Poulenc
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra,  North German Radio Chorus,  Stuttgart Southwest German Radio Vocal Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923; France 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Guilty-pleasure religion and en-pointe flirtation October 18, 2013 By R Gregory Capaldini (Arlington, VA) See All My Reviews "Deneve's Stabat is now the one to own, pure and simple. It has the most precise choral singing since Shaw's outing on Telarc, but also has a soprano soloist with a good bottom range who nonetheless avoids scooping for the high notes. (The clean octave leap in movement X made me want to send her flowers.) Since there technically are two choirs at the conductor's disposal, I wonder if he's delegated some of the trickier a cappella passages to a smaller group; the intonation and dynamic shaping are uncommonly deft. All that being said, Les Biches in its complete form - with added Overture and three choral numbers - is all too rarely taken on. This rendition doesn't un-seat Pretre's on EMI, but it's got charm, airier sound engineering, and a bass drum that will keep your woofers busy. This CD is for you if you like pansexual flirtation set to frilly music and your Holy Week devotions garbed in chords illegal in 18 U.S. states." Report Abuse
 Excellent Performances of Two of Poulenc's Greate April 29, 2013 By Nicholas D. (CAMBRIDGE, MA) See All My Reviews "First-rate versions of two of Poulenc's finest scores: the youthful, brash and exuberantly profane Les Biches (1923, re-orchestrated 1939-40) and the profoundly meditative Stabat Mater (1950), the first of his crowning trilogy of large-scale sacred works. As evidenced in his earlier RCA CD of Poulenc works for piano(s) and orchestra, Denève is a fine conductor of this repertoire, and under his direction singers and instrumentalists do superlative work. The sound - two different venues - is excellent. Moreover, the odd couple pairing works very well, the effervescent high spirits of Les Biches coming as a welcome release after the intense, sombre Stabat Mater. Les Biches is performed complete, including the Overture and three movements with chorus that Poulenc omitted from the better-known Suite. Moreover, unlike the CD versions of the classic 1968 Georges Prêtre version (EMI) or the well-reviewed 2011 Thierry Fischer one (Signum), this uncut Les Biches comes with full song texts and translations (albeit printed like prose). Really enjoyable CD, a standout." Report Abuse
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