After a successful cycle of Chopin works for solo piano, exclusive Chandos artist Louis Lortie plays here works by Poulenc with his duet partner Hélène Mercier. In Aubade and the two concertos they are joined by Edward Gardner and the BBC Philharmonic.
Brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, which he abandoned in 1917 following the death of his father, Poulenc returned to the Church in 1936 after the death of his close friend and fellow composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud. Together these events caused a spiritual crisis in Poulenc’s life which led to a series of important compositions for chorus. The powerful Mass in G major, dedicated to the memory of his father, is notable for its daring use of tonality, though the playfulness of Poulenc’s ‘Les Six’ period is not absent. In the Sept Chansons, set to surrealist texts, and in the two sets of Motets - both very personal and penitential - Poulenc generates a huge range of emotion.
The narrators are two gifted children, the pianist Alezandre Tharaud, whose acute playing has sparked the series. Set for narrator and small ensemble and originally improvised to please the composer's three-year old cousin, the tale of Babar the Elephant receives a charming performance from Alexandre Tharaud and friends with child narrators on this fifth instalment of Naxos's chamber-music series.
Naxos’ first-rate edition of Poulenc’s complete chamber music continues with this very fine collection of shorter pieces and song cycles for voice and small ensemble. Baritone Franck Leguérinel turns in a smashing performance of Le Bal masqué from its manic opening Air de bravoure to the hysterical falsetto antics in the closing Caprice. He’s equally fine in Le Bestiaire, but the cruel vocal line and harmonic acerbities of the Max Jacob songs prove less congenial, though he’s no less stylistically assured.
Naxos' triumphant march through Poulenc's complete chamber music continues with this latest release containing, among a host of smaller items, a smashing performance of the magnificent Sonata for Two Pianos, one of the composer's greatest large works in any medium. Alexandre Tharaud and Francis Chaplin play beautifully…hypnotically seductive in the slow introduction and third movement, while the faster music has the right rhythmic skittishness and crisp articulation. The other outstanding performance here is the Sonata for horn, trumpet, and trombone. This awkward but charming piece has seldom sounded better balanced and more natural (not to mention in tune), and it's very well recorded in a warm acoustic. The other pieces are trifles, but no less enjoyable for that. Another winner.
Francis Poulenc reportedly felt uncomfortable writing for piano and strings and had harsh things to say about both the violin and cello sonatas, remarks duly parroted by critics and biographers ever since. And yet the fact remains that they are his most ambitious, lengthiest, and emotionally complex chamber works. As so often happens in these circumstances, it’s much easier to regurgitate received opinion than it is to actually listen to the music and take it on its own terms.
Shostakovich's two Piano Concertos lack the seriousness of this four concertos for violin or cello. The first is actually a "double" concerto, having an important part for solo trumpet. It's an early but expertly written work sharing the same musical climate as the First Symphony. The Second Concerto was created for the composer's son Maxim, now a well-known conductor. It's a light- hearted, tongue-in-cheek piece with a Romantic slow movement.