Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Boisterous cheer and haunted longing

Francis Poulenc: Chamber music with piano

"What's nice with Poulenc," Erik Satie once said, "is that he makes up his own folklore." Everything about the composer was original: he was largely self-taught, but he had enough confidence in his own talent that his music went its own way. Not worrying too much about musical fashions, he often ended up leading the way himself. He was exposed from his teenage years to the musical revolution of Stravinsky's early ballets, and to the intellectual excitement of the surrealists, but Poulenc's music retained its own earthy, forceful personality, and never lost its way in glibness or sentimentality.

Here's Boris Lipnitzki's famous picture of Les Six with Jean Cocteau, from, I'm assuming, some time in the 1930s: Milhaud, Cocteau, Honegger, Tailleferre, Poulenc & Durey. Cocteau's drawing of the missing Auric rounds out the six. Poulenc's music fits nicely in this avant garde group, but he's as much a leader as a any of his composing colleagues.

This splendid collection of chamber music with piano is organized chronologically, but there's no real story arc of development or decline here; just Poulenc's prodigious, regular eruption of brightness and melancholy, of boisterous cheer and haunted longing. Pianist Paul Rivinius provides a solid lead at the keyboard, keeping his talented wind partners on task, but providing enough swing to keep thing alive and pulsing. This is a marvellous programme of Gallic charm and ingenuity that rewards close listening.

This album will be released on May 17, 2019

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