This second volume of a projected complete survey of Poulenc’s songs “a delightful prospect” begins with one of his earliest and longest examples, the waltz-song Toreador, which Poulenc described as a caricature of a music-hall song. Christopher Maltman sings it stylishly, with Malcolm Martineau contributing his usual artistry in conjuring a whole world of colours and moods from the piano part. With its subtle tempo fluctuations, it’s a tricky song to bring off, but the pair achieve remarkable unanimity. Felicity Lott sings the three settings of Louise Lalanne (- a pseudonym for Marie Laurencin in Nos. 1 and 3, Apollinaire No.2) with her own distinctive artistry, if not always complete comfort or tonal beauty, while Martineau is quite sensational.
The two major items on this CD are the cycle Tel jour, telle nuit and Le travail du peintre. In the cycle, which is among the composer’s masterpieces, Felicity Lott is still able to float some of the very highest notes, but elsewhere she takes a moment to settle on the centre. Her musicianship is still a lesson for all, making the fact that the poems are more naturally expressed by a man almost of no account, but one has to make other allowances. To find her in her prime, one should listen to her wonderful performance of the same cycle on Hommage a Francis Poulenc (Forlane). Alternatively, choose the last track on this CD for her ravishing performance of Les chemins de l’amour.
The thumb-nail sketches of seven artists – Picasso, Chagall, Braque, Gris, Klee, Miro and Villon – grouped as Le travail de peintre (poems by Eluard), are sensitively sung by Maltman, though his slow vibrato occasionally threatens to distract. In the two Apollinaire settings Robert Murray sings superbly, showing a marvellous range of vocal colours and especially brilliant in Dans le jardin d’Anna. I should have been glad to hear more than nine minutes of him. Lorna Anderson has slightly more to do and is excellent in the three Lorca settings. Jonathan Lemalu (five and a half minutes) has burnished tone, heard to splendid effect in Hymne, and he is equally impressive in the completely different mood of La tragique histoire du petit Rene. Saddest of all is the measly two and a half minutes allowed for our enjoyment of the wonderful legato lines of Lisa Milne. Her Nuage is captivating.
So, generally these fine singers score pretty high in their projection and pronunciation of diverse texts, and their all-round musicianship. One’s regrets over the short allocation of time given to some of them surely speaks for itself. Nevertheless, I am tempted to say that Martineau is the most outstanding performer here. I should love to hear him in Poulenc’s solo piano music.
As in Volume One, it is good to have texts included, but again there are a couple of typos in the poems. Also as in the previous volume, Roger Nichols’ notes are authoritative but do not cover every song. Why is this?
Overall this CD is guaranteed to bring hours of pleasure – a must-have for Poulenc fans.
Gramophone, September 2011
This is very much the mixture as before in the first of Signum’s projected cycle of the complete Poulenc songs. The team of British singers accompanied by Malcolm Martineau is the same as before, the sopranos tending to outshine the male singers, though Felicity Lott in one or two of her contributions – as for example the Lafanne poems – is not in quite such fresh voice as before, even if the difference is marginal and her artistry and feeling for the French language remain as impressive as ever.
The selection starts robustly with Christopher Maltman singing the characterful "Toreador", described as hispano-italienne, though it is hard to fathom where the Italian element comes in this song about the bullfight. Lorna Anderson sings delightfully the three Lorca songs, very simple in their lyricism, and she it is who also sings "C", one of Poulenc’s most popular songs, with its haunting arching phrases. Normally one expects this to be sung by a man but Anderson is at least as affecting. She is also characterful in the other Aragon song, "Fetes galantes", with its chattering rhythms and witty pay-off.
"Hymne", sung by Jonathan Lemalu, is a simple setting of the Roman breviary as translated by Racine, and "Priez pour paix" reminds us that the composer remained in France during the Nazi occupation. Best of all perhaps are the two miniature cycles: first Tel jour, telle nuit, nine songs to words by Paul Eluard, beautifully sung by Felicity Lott. The other cycle, Le travail du peintre, fascinatingly gives us Poulenc’s reaction to seven painters including Picasso, Braque, Miró, Chagall and Klee. Then, rounding the disc off, comes a light-hearted waltz song, "Les chemins de !’amour", with Felicity Lott demonstrating her mastery of French operetta style. Signum again provides excellent notes by Roger Nichols and full texts and translations.