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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

Banalités (Apollinaire), Montparnasse (Apollinaire), Rosemunde (Apollinaire), Bleuet (Apollinaire), Quatre poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire, Tel jour telle nuit (Paul Eluard), Chansons Gaillardes (anon), C'est ainsi que tu es (Louise de Vilmorin), C (Louis Aragon), Dernier poème (Robert Desnos), Priez pour pais (Charles d'Orléans), Chansons Villageoises (Maurice Fombeure).
Michel Piquemal,baritone
Christine Lajarrige, piano
NAXOS 8.553642 [66:57]


The performers on this disc are new to me and given that the programme notes provided with my copy are completely in French I am none the wiser as to their credentials (it is at times like this that you regret not taking languages more seriously at school!!!!**). However one is immediately struck by the fact that Piquemal has a strong voice, demonstrating excellent contrast with clear diction, even in the more fleeting songs some of which demand considerable vocal dexterity! He is ably accompanied by Christine Lajarrige who again plays with a firm tone but demonstrates considerable sensitivity when required.

The songs set poems by several poets who were particularly important to the composer notably Guillaume Apollinaire and Paul Eluard and are logically (though not chronologically) arranged on the disc with the Apollinaire settings grouped together at the beginning. Of these the two cycles Banalités and Quatre poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire are separated by three individual settings, Montparnasse, Rosemonde and Bleuet. If any evidence is needed of the sheer variety of expression which Poulenc poured into these delightful songs compare the languid sensuality of Rosemonde (track 7) with the fleeting quirkiness of Avant le Cinema or 1904 ( tracks 11 and 12) from the Quatre poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire. By his own admission the composer was very much at home in this repertoire. I found the Apollinaire cycle Banalités a particular delight ranging from the almost cabaret-like fun of Voyage à Paris (track 4) to the beautifully wistful setting of Sanglots (track 5) which whilst being unquestionably Poulenc bears fleeting Ravellian reminiscences.

The Eluard cycle which follows is a complete contrast, fundamentally more serious stylistically and demonstrating a different side to the composer's nature. Once again Piquemal sings with sensitivity and passion, notably in the third song Une herbe pauvre which is particularly beautiful.

Of the remaining settings the cycle Chansons gaillardes is the odd one out in that it uses anonymous seventeenth century texts but these little gems (the longest of the eight comes in at only 2:31, the shortest a mere 0:39) are simply wonderful. From the opening La maitresse volage, which utilises a lively folk-like melody through the stately Invocation aux Parques to the rumbustiously cheeky Couplets bachiques Piquemal sings with impressive contrast and, where required, humour.

This is a disc to which I will return regularly. Poulenc's wide ranging settings are a delight in themselves but even more so when given the excellent advocacy they receive here by a singer who clearly relishes every nuance and revels in the subtleties of his native language. At budget price this disc is a must for Poulenc devotees but will also give much enjoyment to a wider audience. Recommended.


Christopher Thomas

** Naxos state that UK copies have English text in the booklet

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