Poulenc Choral Works

Author: 
Marc Rochester

Poulenc Choral Works

  • Mass
  • (4) Petites prières de Saint François d'Assise
  • (4) Motets pour un temps de pénitence
  • (4) Motets pour le temps de Noël
  • Salve Regina
  • Exultate Deo
  • Litanies à la vierge noire

Poulenc's sacred a cappella choral music has fared well on CD. Two excellent versions have remained unsurpassed for several years but here, from an altogether more youthful group, comes a very viable alternative.
What verve and enthusiasm they bring to the Mass. From my sedate middle age I do find such unrestrained vigour a little overbearing especially in the Kyrie where, surely, the invocation ''Lord have mercy'' needs to be a little less self-confident, and there are occasions in the Gloria where the sheer exuberance of the Westminster boys wreaks havoc with some of the score's finer details. But Poulenc's Mass is exuberant; nothing could be further from the sanctified spirituality of so much church music than this joyous expression of an intensely human faith. And where it's needed James O'Donnell finds a depth of feeling and innate sensitivity for the music which, certainly in the Sanctus, outshines both Robert Shaw's slightly glib phrasing and Richard Marlow's more lyrical approach.
My only real reservation is with a top-heavy balance. When the boys are singing they dominate, leaving the bass line unnaturally delicate, which is a shame since the Westminster men do make a wonderful sound. They evoke most fetchingly Poulenc's idea of a monastery choir at prayer in the Petites prieres de Saint Francois d'Assise. In view of this lovely singing it's perhaps a shame that this disc doesn't also include Poulenc's other work for unaccompanied men's voices, the Laudes de Saint Antoine de Padoue (Marlow includes it but not Shaw), but this has meant there is room for the accompanied Litanies a la vierge noire.
Whether the presence of that fine work is enough to sway one's choice, I can't say, but for my part while I admire the careful musicality of Marlow's Trinity College choir, and am rejuvenated by the sheer vigour of O'Donnell's Westminster choristers, I derive most satisfaction at each repeated hearing from Robert Shaw's warmly expressive Festival Singers.'

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