Poulenc: The Complete Songs Vol.4


Composing over 150 works for piano and voice over a period of 44 years, the songs of Francis Poulenc remain consistently popular to concert audiences the world over. Varying in their individual style and character in a way that defies generalization, Poulenc set music to a wide range of different French poetry – both ancient and modern, and from the serious to the surreal. This is the fourth release in our series that will build to encompass the complete songs of Francis Poulenc – performed by some of the greatest singers of the day and accompanied by the exceptional Malcolm Martineau.


What people are saying

"[Sarah Fox’s] portrayal of La dame de Monte Carlo is superb, capturing all the world-weary brilliance of the character whose luck has finally run out. It is a superb choice of track with which to end the disc." Musicweb International

John Mark Ainsley, William Dazeley, Sarah Fox, Magdalena Molendowska, Ann Murray, Thomas Oliemans

Malcolm Martineau

Release date:30th Sep 2013
Order code:SIGCD323
Barcode: 635212032329

This new disc of songs by Francis Poulenc is the fourth disc in a five disc set from Malcolm Martineau on Signum Classics, covering all of the composer’s songs. The discs use a variety of singers and here Martineau is joined by John Mark Ainsley, William Dazeley, Sarah Fox, Magdalena Molendowska (winner of the Guildhall School’s Gold Medal in 2013), Ann Murray and Thomas Oliemans. The repertoire ranges widely from Poulenc’s early Le Bestiaire to the late La dame de Montecarlo, and includes his Polish songs.

In fact, one of the puzzling things about the disc is the selection of songs. There is no rationale given for the selection. But if you simply sit back and relax, there is much to enjoy in the selection. Poulenc wrote over 150 songs and it would be foolish to expect them all to be masterpieces but many are well worth investigating. 

The disc opens with Le Bestiaire, written in 1919 and containing some of Poulenc’s earliest songs. The six Apollinaire settings were originally written for baritone and ensemble. Poulenc wrote 12, but only published six. Here three of the unpublished songs are included. All nine are sung by the Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans. He has a lovely mellow baritone voice with a warm grainy tone. His voice is warmer and more resonant than Pierre Bernac’s, but still with the right dryness of tone. His manner in the songs is wonderfully deadpan, as is necessary if the songs are to succeed. Oliemans has fine control in his upper register. Songs like the first song, Le chevre de Thibet, have magical moments and Oliemans points the poetry finely. Oliman’s gives the first unpublished song, Le serpent a bravura sense of narrative. The second, La puce is more low key and and the last, La colombe, rather austere. 

The Poemes de Ronsard date from 1924 and set poetry by Pierre Ronsard (1524-1585), they are here sung by William Dazeley. He has a lovely high lyric baritone voice with a fine sense of line and great beauty of tone. The five songs are perhaps not the finest, and Poulenc lost confidence in them. Dazeley’s performance brings the best out of the songs, combining lyric beauty with a great edge to the text where necessary. 

For his Cinq Poemes de Max Jacob, written in 1931, Poulenc returned to a poet he had set ten years earlier. Cinq Poemes de Max Jacob are here performed by Sarah Fox. The poems are pictures of country life, and Fox starts by combining vivid characterisation with text delivered at a furious rate in Chanson Bretonne and with great charm. She brings a sense of narrative to Cimitiere and earthy desperation to La petite servante. She has the ability to turn on a pin when it comes to the emotions in the songs. Berceuse is beautifully sonorous whilst Souric et Mouric has some brilliant patter. 

Huit chansons polonaises were written in 1934 to perform with Polish soprano Maria Modrakowska, mostly with poems and tunes dating from 1830. The first seven are charming enough in a Chopin-esque manner but you would not always guess the composer. Only in the last song, with its austere and haunting harmony, does Poulenc appear. The young Polish soprano Magdalena Molendowska gives performances of great charm and digs a little deeper in the last song, I certainly hope we get to hear more of her.

Poulenc’s first settings of Paul Eluard were in 1935, though he had known the poet since 1918 and go on to set much of his poetry. Here Cinq poemes de Paul Eluard are sung here by John Mark Ainsley; they were premiered by Poulenc and Pierre Bernac in their first recital. Ainsley opens the first song Peut-il se reposer celui qui dort with a fabulous sense of unfolding line. Both he and Martineau give a nicely supple performance. The second song is brilliantly schizophrenic, whilst the third is elegantly haunting and bitter sweet. Ainsley Brings a high degree of vocal beauty to the fourth song, combined with a lovely transparent piano part from Martineau. The last song is a delightfully busy one, another of Poulenc’s dazzling list songs. 

Thomas Oliemans returns for Chansons villageoises, settings of poems by Maurice Fombeure which date from 1942. Apart from the final song, there is little sense of the wartime period of their creation. Instead we have a great delight in the small things of village life, and some dazzling patter songs such as the first, Chanson du clair tamis, which Oliemans delivers with perky delight. Les gars qui vont a la fete is a jolly delight, one of Poulenc’s list songs. C’est le jolie Printemps sees Oliemans displaying fine control and great beauty of tone. Le mendicant is darkly sardonic with a truly sonorous piano accompaniment. More dazzling patter in Chanson de la fille frivole and then the sardonic and angry Le retour du sergent, but this being Poulenc it is combined with melodic felicity. 

The final thee songs are all one offs. Une chanson de porcelaine sets Paul Eluard; written in 1958 for soprano Jane Bathori’s 80th birthday, it was Poulenc’s last Eluard setting. The curious words are given a haunting and evocative performance by William Dazeley. Fancy, setting Shakespeare in English, was published in 1962 and here receives a poised and perfect performance from Ann Murray. Finally Poulenc’s 1961 Cocteau setting, La dame de Montecarlo. Here in a poised and characterful performance by Sarah Fox, revealing a lovely richness to the timbre of Fox’s voice. She and Martineau are greatly responsive and give a performance full of theatrical drama. 

The disc comes with an informative article plus full texts and translations. 

Throughout Martineau is impressive as an imaginative and supportive accompanist. And he is joined by some fine performers. There are some gems on the disc, but I would not necessarily want to sit down and listen from start to finish. 

Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill

I came to this disc just after I’d heard Hyperion’s (excellent) complete Poulenc song edition, so I can’t help but compare the repertoire the discs share. Unfortunately, the Signum disc doesn’t get off to a great start. Thomas Oliemans sings Le Bestiaire and its additions with a more apposite tone than did Brandon Velarde for Hyperion, but I found his vocal colour a little unsteady, lacking a satisfying centre. Why on earth does he introduce each song by speaking its title? Similarly, William Dazeley sounds very stretched at the top in the Ronsard songs. Atributs and Ballet are very uncomfortable and, while Je n’ai plus que les os is better, he can’t touch the emotional and spiritual depth that Susan Bickley brings to that song with Graham Johnson. There are some excellent performances, though; maybe even some improvements. 

Magdalena Molendowska is at least the equal of Agnieszka Adamczak in the Polish songs, and Ainsley is also predictably excellent in the Eluard songs. He hurls himself into the passion of Il a prend dans ses bras in marked contrast to the languid contrast of the surrounding songs. He is also very good in the slower numbers of the Chansons villageoises, though I missed the sheer abandon of Ashley Riches when it came to the faster songs. Ann Murray makes a brief but welcome appearance for Fancy.  

The most positive improvement over the Hyperion edition comes with the only singer who also appears on that set. Sarah Fox sings the same two items that had been given (rather unsuccessfully) to Nicole Tibells on Hyperion. She excels in the Jacob songs, injecting lots of sparkle with portions of both wit and innocence. Her portrayal of La dame de Monte Carlo is superb, capturing all the world-weary brilliance of the character whose luck has finally run out. It is a superb choice of track with which to end the disc. Martineau’s accompaniment is every bit as intelligent as Johnson’s. 

The sound is also very good – close and clear with a pleasant bloom – though the songs recorded in Oxford have noticeably more echo than those taped in Finchley. 

Musicweb International, Simon Thompson

  1. Le bestiaire: I. Le dromadaire [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 1.27
  2. Le bestiaire: II. Le ch?vre du Thibet [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 0.42
  3. Le bestiaire: III. La sauterelle [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 0.29
  4. Le bestiaire: IV. Le dauphin [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 0.28
  5. Le bestiaire: V. L’?crevisse [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 0.47
  6. Le bestiaire: VI. La carpe [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 1.41
  7. Le serpent [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 0.31
  8. La puce [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 0.56
  9. La colombe [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 0.52
  10. Po?mes de Ronsard: I. Attributs [William Dazeley] – Francis Poulenc – 1.22
  11. Po?mes de Ronsard: II. Le tombeau [William Dazeley] – Francis Poulenc – 2.47
  12. Po?mes de Ronsard: III. Ballet [William Dazeley] – Francis Poulenc – 2.12
  13. Po?mes de Ronsard: IV. Je n’ai plus que les os ? [William Dazeley] – Francis Poulenc – 3.26
  14. Po?mes de Ronsard: V. A son page [William Dazeley] – Francis Poulenc – 1.36
  15. Cinq po?mes de Max Jacob: I. Chanson Bretonne [Sara Fox] – Francis Poulenc – 0.45
  16. Cinq po?mes de Max Jacob: II. Cim?ti?re [Sara Fox] – Francis Poulenc – 2.30
  17. Cinq po?mes de Max Jacob: III. La petite servante [Sara Fox] – Francis Poulenc – 2.07
  18. Cinq po?mes de Max Jacob: IV. Bercuse [Sara Fox] – Francis Poulenc – 1.29
  19. Cinq po?mes de Max Jacob: V. Souric et Mouric [Sara Fox] – Francis Poulenc – 1.51
  20. Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): I. Wianek (La couronne) [Magdalena Molendowska] – Francis Poulenc – 2.03
  21. Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): II. Odjazd (Le d?part) [Magdalena Molendowska] – Francis Poulenc – 1.03
  22. Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): III. Polska mlodziez (Les gars polonais) – Francis Poulenc – 0.57
  23. Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): IV. Ostatni mazur (Le dernier mazour) [Magdalena Molendowska] – Francis Poulenc – 1.59
  24. Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): V. Pozegnanie (L’adieu) [Magdalena Molendowska] – Francis Poulenc – 1.37
  25. Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): VI. Biala choragiewka (Le drapeau blanc) [Magdalena Molendowska] – Francis Poulenc – 0.44
  26. Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): VII. Wisla (La vistule) – Francis Poulenc – 1.46
  27. Osiem piesni polskich (Huit chansons polonaises): VIII. Jezioro (Le lac) [Magdalena Molendowska] – Francis Poulenc – 2.15
  28. Cinq po?mes de Paul Eluard: I. Peut-il se reposer celui qui dort [John Mark Ainsley] – Francis Poulenc – 2.06
  29. Cinq po?mes de Paul Eluard: II. Il la prend dans ses bras – Francis Poulenc – 0.54
  30. Cinq po?mes de Paul Eluard: III. Plume d’eau claire [John Mark Ainsley] – Francis Poulenc – 0.41
  31. Cinq po?mes de Paul Eluard: IV. Rodeuse au front de verre [John Mark Ainsley] – Francis Poulenc – 1.53
  32. Cinq po?mes de Paul Eluard: V. Amoureuses [John Mark Ainsley] – Francis Poulenc – 1.15
  33. Chansons villageoises: I. Chanson du clair tamis [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 0.55
  34. Chansons villageoises: II. Les gars qui vont ? la fete [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 1.31
  35. Chansons villageoises: III. C’est le joli printemps [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 2.43
  36. Chansons villageoises: IV. Le mendiant [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 3.38
  37. Chansons villageoises: V. Chanson de la fille frivole [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 0.51
  38. Chansons villageoises: VI. Le retour du sergent [Thomas Oliemans] – Francis Poulenc – 1.54
  39. Une chanson de porcelaine [William Dazeley] – Francis Poulenc – 1.31
  40. Fancy [Ann Murray] – Francis Poulenc – 1.55
  41. La dame de Monte Carlo [Sara Fox] – Francis Poulenc – 7.23
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