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CD Review

Francis Poulenc

Choral Music

  • Sept Chansons
  • Mass in G Major
  • Four Motets for the Season of Lent
  • Four Motets for the Season of Christmas
Elora Festival Singers/Noel Edison
Naxos 8.572978 54:13
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from ArkivMusic.comFind it at CD Universe Find it at JPC

The sacred choral music of Francis Poulenc is some of the more difficult to appreciate at times. Listeners who have grown accustomed to Eric Whitacre or Morten Lauridsen will doubtless raise an eyebrow at the odd writing (singing in octaves, close harmonies) that occasionally makes the music sound strange. For many, sacred choral music should be "pretty". For Poulenc, a composer raised in the Church – by that, I mean Roman Catholic – but left until later in life, sacred choral music was a deeply personal expression that is unmatched by anyone else in France. A member of Les Six, his wealth allowed him to composer whatever he pleased, and he was loyal to the ideas of those composers even after the group disbanded. The liner notes speak of his predisposition to include jazz influences, and a great sense of "fun". This disc shows all of that, with one of the greatest choirs currently active in North America.

The Sept Chansons are a secular set of songs based on poetry, and are very much indebted to the sounds of the 1920s and 1930s. The text painting is very jazzy in places, while other sections recall the turmoil and longing of the era. Each poem is sensitively phrased and captured in music, and there is an eye toward the future. I hear things that remind me of Eastern choral music, while others still are pure whimsy and there are times where one smiles in surprise. The Mass in G is a beautiful setting of the Missa Brevis, sans Credo and rather compact. While Poulenc pays homage to chanted settings of the past, he also creates a distinctively modern sound while working with the Latin and Greek. The Elora Festival Singers are some of the finest voices in the world, and they provide – for me, anyway – the finest recording of this music since Robert Shaw. But while Shaw relied on a gorgeous blend and large Telarc acoustic, Noel Edison uses his more natural sonic picture to permit a wider range of tempo and expression. There's nothing wrong with the blend here, either. The sound is simply ethereal and you can actually hear all of the words. Will wonders never cease?

The two sets of motets are more normal-sounding, if you're a fan of motets and know what to expect. They are brief, very lovely, and true to the Lenten and Christmas texts. Mind you, this still isn't Bruckner, or anything; these motets are light and playful and somehow very French. Noel Edison is one of the best living choral conductors, and he knows exactly what sound he wants and how to get it. The Festival Singers follow his every whim, and are captured in top quality sound. Every single Elora album is worth getting, and this proves no exception. This is Poulenc for people who don't like Poulenc, and a steal at budget price.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman

Trumpet