New London Chamber Choir James Wood - Poulenc: Secular Choral Music (2004)

New London Chamber Choir James Wood - Poulenc: Secular Choral Music (2004)

Artist: New London Chamber Choir / James Wood
Title: Poulenc: Secular Choral Music
Year Of Release: 2004
Label: Hyperion
Genre: Classical
Quality: FLAC (image + .cue, log, artwork)
Total Time: 67:28 min
Total Size: 227 MB


01. Un soir de neige
05. Chansons francaises
13. Sept chansons
20. Chanson a boire
21. Petites voix
26. Figure humaine

A few of these small choral gems are well known to amateur choirs, and Poulenc's secular choral pieces are more often presented one at a time on choral albums than in the groupings in which they were originally included. Francis Poulenc: Secular Choral Music offers the composer's very first choral piece, the Chanson à boire for men's voices , but most of the music here dates from either the late '30s (the Petites voix, for female or children's voices, and Sept chansons) or the World War II era (Un soir de neige), the folk-song settings entitled Chansons françaises, and the ambitious Figure humaine, whose final number, "Liberté," was dropped in sheet music form over French cities by Britain's Royal Air Force. Someone once described Poulenc as "part monk, part hooligan," and these a cappella choral works give evidence of both tendencies. The Chansons françaises are cheerful pieces with just a shade of extended harmony, almost French counterparts to Bartók's folk song settings, while the more serious pieces, such as "Un chien perdu" (A Lost Dog), from the Petites voix, have a mystical tinge that links them strongly with Poulenc's better-known sacred choral music.

The primary competition for this reissued New London Chamber Choir disc is provided by a similar release from the French choral ensemble Accentus and its conductor Laurence Equilbey. They stand in sharp contrast, yet either could make a good choice. Accentus is the more technically accomplished group, with an awesomely smooth sound, while the New London Chamber Choir stands more in the realm of ordinary mortals -- which is perhaps where Poulenc's music is really located. Poulenc's a cappella choral music, with its sometimes dense chromaticism and its unusual registers, is not easy to sing, and conductor James Wood keeps his singers to a rock-steady pitch even if they yield to their French counterparts in creating a seamless blend. Accentus may of course be the more "Gallic" performance, but the New London Chamber Choir enunciates the texts well (if with a bit of an English accent), catches the little hint of the French music hall that permeates Poulenc's music, and has apparently moved enough listeners with its readings for Hyperion to bring these 1995 recordings back for another go-round on its Helios imprint. A good pick for Poulenc fans and for choristers interested in investigating a tough challenge. -- James Manheim

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