Serendipitous Poulenc

The mind sometimes makes patterns out of the chaos of the programming around us.  Lately it’s been Francis Poulenc:

  • March 1st Isabel Bayrakdarian programmed the boisterous Le bal masqué, a work I’d studied a very long time ago 
    …look at Poulenc’s face. What a comedian!
  • Wallis Giunta will sing the languid “Hôtel” as part of her concert program this coming Sunday at Glenn Gould studio 
  • The COC are about to present Dialogues des Carmelites (no comedian in sight)

Such variety…!

click for more info about the CD

That’s part of my context coming to Musique de chambre from Pentaèdre, a CD collaboration between the woodwind quintet and pianist David Jalbert, offered in honour of the 50th anniversary of this amazing composer’s death in 1963.  Like Debussy and Stravinsky –likely influences upon him—Poulenc is a composer ranging broadly across the emotional landscape.   While the music of some composers seems to hang together neatly in a single tight statement for posterity, Poulenc’s variety suggests a colourful personality & and an interesting life.  If we think of our exploration of a composer’s music as a journey, Poulenc throws more than a few surprise twists our way.  The disparity may be entirely in my head, given that someone else may easily manage to find harmony in my discord.  Like Debussy & Stravinsky, Poulenc at times pays homage to the past, at other times boldly points to the future, music that may invoke nobility or spirit at one time, while at other moments happily reminding us of popular culture & even jazz.

And voila –courtesy of Pentaèdre, Jalbert and ATMA –we’re presented with Poulenc’s glorious variety.

There’s the “Septuor pour piano, flute, hautbois, clarinette, bassoon et cor”, a kick-off for the CD utilizing all six of the personnel in a bold beginning.  Their reading is pristine yet jarring, fearless and crystalline in its perfection.  In this instance Poulenc shows his allegiance to Les Six, in a clinical score pushing any ensemble to its limit without sentimentality.

Danièle Bourget follows (with Jalbert) in a reading of the well-known flute sonata.  It’s been awhile since I’ve heard the piece, from its haunting opening movement, to the rhythmic vitality of its closing.  Bourget and Jalbert offering is the first of several highlights on this CD.

Then it’s the turn of horn-player Louis-Philippe Marsolais in the “Élégie pour cor et piano”, this time showing a deeper and more soulful side to Poulenc, composed in response to the untimely death of Dennis Brain in the 1940s.  Martin Carpentier & Jalbert follow with Poulenc’s clarinet sonata, one of his final works, written with Benny Goodman in mind.  At times soulful, at other times wildly joyous, the balance is very self-assured and congenial.

And then for something completely different –yet typical of the variegated genius that is Poulenc—we come to the trio for oboe, bassoon and piano.  This elegant neoclassical work –written in the 1920s –points backwards at the 18th century in a manner reminiscent of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin.  Norman Forget and Armand Lussier join Jalbert in a sparkling reading, a subtle display of delicacy and grace.

They close with an arrangement of the melodious Novelette oozing charm & class.  Here and throughout the CD, Pentaèdre –a Quebecois treasure—show a natural affinity for one of the recent masters of French culture.

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