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CD Review

Francis Poulenc

Chamber Works

  • Cello Sonata
  • Sonata for 2 Pianos
  • Suite française
  • Serenade
  • 2 Songs
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
John York, piano
York 2 Piano Duo
Academy Sound & Vision Gold GLD4014 63m DDD
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Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) together with Debussy, ravel and Milhaud has always been regarded as one of the major exponents of French music of the first half of the 20th century. In his own words, the main influences on his career were Mozart, before anybody else, then Schubert, Chopin, Debussy and Stravinsky.

Listening to the works on this CD, I certainly heard echoes of all these masters, but Poulenc's unmistakable touch is very evident throughout. The neo-classical Suite Françoise (1935) is based on several dance movements by Claude Gervaise, a 16th-century musician famous not only as a composer but as an editor and arranger as well. A truly delectable work recorded in the 1953 arrangement by Poulenc himself.

The two main pieces on this disc are the 1948 Cello Sonata and the Sonata for Two Pianos written in 1952-53. The Cello Sonata, commissioned by Pierre Fournier is a striking and powerful work full of impassioned music. Particular attention should be paid to the eerie harmonics of the Finale's slow introduction, truly one of the composer's best atmospheric moments.

The Sonata for Two Pianos is surely one of the most potent works in the genre, not only by Poulenc but by any other 20th-century composer. Considered as an absolute masterpiece, this work is not only extremely dramatic but hugely colourful. Soaring tunes contrast big choral textures while dark and convulsive moments are softened by delicate images.

This issue also contains three short bonuses in the Serenade and two song arrangements. Raphael Wallfisch and John (York) 2 Piano Duo succeed in injecting the listener with a joie-de-vivre that is infectiously rejuvenating, while capturing that quintessential French flavour which is so important in such works. Recordings are clean and immediate, but a more detailed essay would not have been amiss. A convincing issue, made all the more attractive by its very affordable price tag.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech