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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Chamber Music - Volume 2
Suite française d'après Claude Gervaise for cello & piano, FP 80 [13:18]
Tempo di Sicilienne - Sérénade d’après la huitième des chansons Gaillardes, FP 42
(arranged for cello & piano by Maurice Gendron) [2:38]
L’invitation au château. Musique de scène pour la pièce de Jean Anouilh, for clarinet, violin & piano, FP 138 [23:52]
Un Joueur de flûte berce les ruines, for flute, FP 14 [1:17]
Villanelle, for piccolo & piano, FP 74 [2:27]
Deux Mélodies, for baritone & piano, FP 162 [3:09]
La Travail du Peintre, for baritone & piano, FP 161 [12:47]
Eva-Maria May (piano)
Martin Rummel (cello)
Corinna Desch (violin)
Andreas Schablas (clarinet)
Ahran Kim (flute & piccolo)
Damien Gastl (baritone)
rec. 2018/2019, Johannissaal, Schloss Nymphenburg; Bruno-Walter-Saal, Bayerische Staatsoper; Rubinsteinsaal, Steinway-Haus, Munich
No sung texts provided

This is Bavarian pianist Eva-Maria May’s fifth and final release in the Paladino label’s Poulenc cycle of piano and chamber music. Here, she plays on every single work of the album bar one. Paladino has gathered a five-strong band of musicians: May, cellist Martin Rummel, violinist Corinna Desch, Andreas Schablas, a principal clarinet of Bayerisches Staatsorchester, and Ahran Kim on flute/piccolo.

Young Parisian composer Francis Poulenc was inspired by the music of the influential Debussy, Satie and Stravinsky who all lived in the city. Following a performance of Rapsodie nègre in 1917, Stravinsky was sufficiently enthused to arrange Poulenc a contact with a music publisher. Joining the group of French composers known as Les Six also affected Poulenc’s career. Formed in Paris by Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau at the end of the Great War, the group also included Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud and Germaine Tailleferre. Poulenc, who lived for sixty-four years through two world wars, produced an outstanding body of chamber music. His fourteen chamber pieces do not include works for piano solo/duo and for voice with piano (songs/mélodies). Poulenc was fond of writing for wind instruments; ten of his chamber works include wind parts. There are five separate instrumental works on this disc, and two sets of mélodies with piano accompaniment.

The 1935 Suite française is an orchestral suite in seven movements, influenced by French Renaissance composer Claude Gervaise’s collection of dances Le livre de danceries. Played here is Poulenc’s own 1953 transcription for cello and piano, titled Suite française d'après Claude Gervaise. Rummel and May provide an unforced and brightly coloured performance, revelling in the contrasting mood of each piece of the suite.

The eight-song cycle Sérénade d’après la huitième des chansons Gaillardes (Ribald songs) was written in 1925-1926. Renowned cellist Maurice Gendron (1920-1990) has transcribed the short final song Sérénade for cello and piano, and named it Tempo di Sicilienne. The tender melody of this modest Sérénade allows Rummel to exploit the richness of his cello’s low register.

Poulenc supplied the incidental music to Jean Anouilh’s satirical play L’Invitation au château (Invitation to the Castle) premiered in 1947 at Theatre de l'Atelier in Paris. Performed here is the three-act chamber suite scored for clarinet, violin and piano. Schablas, Desch and May excel in this predominantly cheerful salon work; they neatly savour the distinct changes of tempi and mood.

Although the manuscript is dated 1942, the short solo flute work Un Joueur de flûte berce les ruines (A flute player serenades the ruins) was only unearthed at Yale University in 1997 by flute professor, Ransom Wilson. This miniature piece, entrancingly handled by flautist Kim, creates an impression of the ruins in early morning sunrise through a mist. Another short work, the 1934 Villanelle marked modéré is scored for piccolo and piano. It is part of Pipeaux 1934, a collection of short pieces for pipes some with piano accompaniment by Poulenc and six other Paris-based composers: Milhaud, Roussel, Ibert, Auric, Ferroud and Martelli. Duo Kim and May play the Villanelle gloriously in what feels like an intimate conversation between the two instruments.

Throughout his life, Poulenc wrote many mélodies. The Deux Mélodies from 1956 is a fairly late example, contemporaneous with his opera Dialogues des Carmélites (Dialogues of the Carmelites). Sung by baritone with piano accompaniment, the Deux Mélodies comprise La Souris (The Mouse) to Apollinaire’s text, and Nuage (Cloud) to a Laurence de Beylié setting. One soon notices how Strasbourg-born baritone Damien Gastl is very much at home in the album’s two sets of mélodies. Although La Souris (The Mouse) and Nuage (Cloud) are extremely short, Gastl and May respectfully treat the mélodies with utmost seriousness.

Written around the same time as the Deux Mélodies but far more expansive is La Travail du Peintre (The Painter’s Work), a cycle of seven mélodies performed here by baritone and piano serving as equal partners. All are settings from Paul Éluard’s 1948 collection of surrealist poems Voir. Each of the seven songs represents a separate artist by way of tribute. In a steady and focused performance, Gastl sings Poulenc’s cycle tastefully, with smooth projection and significant tonal warmth. Without doubt, Gastl benefits from having a sympathetic partner in pianist May. The opening setting titled Pablo Picasso stands out. It is purposefully sung by Gastl with a character that is noble and vividly colourful. The fourth setting Juan Gris impressively communicates a poignant melancholy.

The sound is consistent, with first-rate clarity and balance. Disappointingly, there are no sung texts at all, but Eva-Maria May wrote a helpful booklet essay. This is a worthy addition to Paladino’s survey of Poulenc’s piano and chamber music.

Michael Cookson

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