Poulenc reviews

I own (and have been listening to lately) the first disc reviewed (it's on vinyl) but include the other review (of recordings I don't own) for biographical detail. I don't consider "Champêtre" to be ear candy. The first time I heard it seemed very abstract and as I listen to it more it seems like what we would now call "A.D.D."--themes recur but are never around long. It helps to know the composer is considered a magpie of other styles and was reared in a dada/surrealist tradition of not having things mean what they sound like.

From Gramophone, 1971-6 (OCR of the print version, cleaned up a bit):

POULENC. Concerto in G Minor for Organ, Strings, and Percussion. Concert Champêtre for Harpsichord and Orchestra. Marie-Claire Alain (organ), Robert Veyron-Lacroix (harpsichord), French National Radio Orchestra conducted by Jean Martinon. RCA Erato STU 70637 (299). First reviewed under same number in July 1971.

Enthusiasts of Poulenc's music will grind their teeth at the insoluble problems of duplication posed by this (otherwise welcome) reissue. The Organ Concerto, to begin with, already exists in an excellent performance by Maurice Duruflé (HMV ASD 2835, 2/73); it is coupled with the only available recording of the Gloria (a work which no true Poulencian would be without). An admirable account of the Concert Champêtre is also in the catalogue (the soloist is Aimée van der Wiele) on ASD 517, 4/63: the coupling here, no less desirable, is Poulenc's own performance, with Jacques Février, of the Concerto for two pianos. Some may feel, as I do, that Jean Martinon makes a more sympathetic, less strenuous conductor of Poulenc's music than does Georges Prêtre (who appears on both the rival discs) but this makes the dilemma more rather than less acute. Of the present coupling I can say no more than that I greatly enjoyed both performances, with the exception of Marie-Claire Alain's phrasing of the Faure-cum-Baroque andante moderato in the Organ Concerto (which could have been more crisply dotted) and Robert Veyron-Lacroix's handling of his very first entry in the Concerto Champêtre (rather too heavily staccato). The balance in both recordings is exemplary, but rapid figuration on the organ is not perfectly clear, despite a dryish acoustic (Studio 104 at the Maison de l'ORTF in Paris). I would be happy with all three discs or any permutation from them—not very helpful, I'm afraid, but it is better to have good performances duplicated than bad ones; we should be grateful for small mercies. M.E.O.

LA Times:

By HERBERT GLASS|June 01, 1986

There's a common perception that French music is frivolous--or, at any rate, more given to humor and irony, to pageantry and entertainment, than to soul-searching.

The perception, while rooted in fact, has been used by the more somber sort of critic to cudgel French music in general. Music as accessible, as easy as that of, say, Francis Poulenc--or Chabrier or Massenet, even Ravel--can't be worth much, they grimly reason.

Poulenc, who died in 1963, was tolerated, even liked, during his lifetime, but never respected outside France. He was to the larger world a charming rascal, a dabbler in composition who shamelessly juxtaposed popsy dance tunes with jagged Stravinskyisms and broad, lush melodies that could be conceived either as homages to or parodies of Ravel. Even his professedly most serious works were, heaven help us, rather too much fun to listen to.

Poulenc's popularity suffered the usual post - mortem decline, to ascend again during the '80s, perhaps as a consequence of performers' and impresarios' increasing attempt to find new audiences with accessible, entertaining repertory. In this respect one could do much worse than Poulenc, whose music rises far above that of his jokester contemporaries, Jean Francaix and Jacques Ibert, in vigor and lyric invention.

After a decade or more of near silence, the recording industry is taking renewed interest in Poulenc. Outstanding among several new releases of his music are two from Erato/RCA devoted to his five works for keyboard and orchestra.

One (75210, LP or CD) couples the "Concert Champetre," written for harpsichordist Wanda Landowska in 1928, and the darker, yet equally flashy, Organ Concerto of a decade later.

The other (75203, LP or CD) includes the dizzyingly energetic, jokey-sentimental Two-Piano Concerto of 1932, with its scraps of mock-Mozart and Balinese gamelan sounds interspersed with tunes you'd expect to be sung by Edith Piaf and others you might imagine being whistled by Parisian street urchins (if they could whistle very fast); the svelte 1928 "Aubade" for piano and winds--a modern evocation of the galant opera ballets of Rameau, and the wanly pretty Piano Concerto of 1949, whose one memorable episode is the appearance of "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" in the finale.

Erato's snazzy soloists are the French pianists Francois-Rene Duchable and Jean-Philippe Collard, who can croon a tune as well as they can rattle off a musical joke; the French organist/Bach scholar Marie-Claire Alain, and Dutch keyboardist Ton Koopman, who brings the same keen intelligence and rhythmic fire to the "Concert Champetre" that inform his interpretations of Baroque music. The Rotterdam Philharmonic plays with Gallic panache for American conductor James Conlon in all five works.

On a single disc in its low-priced "Eminence" series (AE-34492, LP only), Angel has reissued a trio of classic Poulenc interpretations recorded under the composer's supervision and by his favorite conductor, Georges Pretre: the "Concert Champetre," with harpsichordist Aimee van der Wiele; a suite from his earliest success, the ballet "Les Biches," written for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1924, and the most widely performed of his post-World War II works, the exuberant, exquisitely lyrical 1961 "Gloria" (with soprano Rosanna Carteri and the French Radio-Television Chorus), an homage to a hero of Poulenc's last years, Prokofiev.

This program, a generous 75 minutes of marvelously crafted, spirited music, is played with an admirable combination of dash, soulfulness and polish by the Paris Conservatory and French National orchestras under conductor Pretre, whose Poulenc is a rather more biting, "modern" composer than the one projected by Conlon.