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Pristine Classical

Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Gloria (1959) [27:27]
Organ Concerto in G minor (1938)* [22:52]
Eric SATIE (1866-1925)
Prélude du Rideau Rouge – 1. Prestidigitateur Chinois [4:17]; 2. Petite fille américaine – Rag Time du Paquebot [2:48]; 3. Acrobates – Suite au Prélude du Rideau Rouge [4:12]
Deux Morceaux en Forme de Poire (1903)**: Enlevé II [2:38]; Redite [1:23]
Rosanna Carteri (soprano)
French Radio and Television Chorus
*Maurice Duruflé (organ)
French National Radio and Television Orchestra/Georges Prêtre/**Georges Auric and Francis Poulenc (pianos)
rec.15 February,1961, Salle de Wagram, Paris; *21 February, 1961; Church of St Étienne du Mont, Paris; **1 August 1937.
Pristine Audio XR Stereo

The fiftieth anniversary of the death of Francis Poulenc is a good time for Pristine Classical to issue new transfers of these famous recordings of two of his best-known works.
In some ways it will be the Organ Concerto that will attract most attention, I suspect. Though artistically this recording was always highly rated the performance was compromised by the fact that the strings of the French orchestra were badly out of tune with the organ. Andrew Rose, who has made these latest transfers, wonders in an accompanying note how the recording was ever passed as fit to be issued. Using up-to-the-minute technology he has now corrected many of these pitch lapses, he says, taking advantage of the fact that in this score Poulenc wrote a good number of passages in which either the organ plays without the strings or vice versa. He can’t do anything about tuning discrepancies in those passages that feature the whole ensemble and there are several points that sound a bit queasy – at around 11:30, for example, and again around 15:25. Quite what alchemy Andrew Rose has worked to achieve the results that he has I don’t know but I have to say I’m convinced.
Obviously, as a general rule one doesn’t want inaccurate tuning in a commercial recording but arguably the timbre and sound of this authentically Gallic recording is part of its charm. Furthermore one must set against any issues of ‘democratic’ tuning the not inconsiderable merits of having a performance which was conducted by the man who was, I believe, the composer’s favourite exponent of his music and in which the solo part was played by a leading French organist-composer. It’s significant that the recording was made in the Parisian church of St Étienne du Mont where Maurice Duruflé was titular organist from 1929 until his death in 1986. Not only was Duruflé extremely familiar with the instrument used for this recording but also he had a unique association with the concerto for he had given its first performance in 1939. So, what we have here is an extremely authentic account and, issues of pitching aside, a very good one; the work is played with great spirit by all concerned. The greatest disappointment for me is that the crucial timpani part is not more incisively played – or perhaps that’s partly down to the engineering. Otherwise, it’s a most enjoyable reading of a fine work.
There’s also a notable spirit in the performance of the Gloria. It’s true that the choir isn’t the most polished you’ve ever heard – the tenors are pretty strident at the start of the final movement, for example and I don’t like some of the choir’s vowel sounds, such as the pronunciation of the word ‘Gloria’ itself. However, the singers are certainly committed and they deliver sections such as the ‘Laudamus te’ with genuine zest. The orchestral sound is often piquant but the players respond keenly to Prêtre’s direction. The soloist is the Italian soprano, Rosanna Carteri (b. 1930). At times I find her tone edgy but she sings with no little feeling, not least in the ‘Domine Deus’. The point about this performance is that although it was written for the Koussevitzky Foundation and premièred by the Boston Symphony Orchestra the timbres that we hear on this recording would have been the sort that Poulenc would have expected. Incidentally the recording was made the day after these same forces had given the European première of the work.
There have been several subsequent recordings of both of these Poulenc pieces that have featured either better sound or more polished playing and singing – or, indeed, both. However, both of these performances are highly committed and have more than a whiff of authenticity about them. As such, they have a firm place in the Poulenc discography. These new transfers seem to me to be very successful.
For good measure Pristine have added some interesting couplings in the form of five short and typically quirky piano duets by Eric Satie played by Poulenc himself in alliance with fellow composer Georges Auric. These may not have been issued commercially before, Andrew Rose thinks, and he has transferred them from rare French 78s.
This release presents very good new transfers of landmark recordings of two key Poulenc scores. If you want to add either or both of these recordings to your collection then Pristine Audio now offers probably the ideal way to acquire them.
John Quinn