POULENC Piano Concerto. Concerto for 2 Pianos
As Louis Lortie remarks in a booklet-note, ‘[Poulenc’s] Piano Concerto is almost a guilty pleasure: raw melodic talent unstained by intellectual complications, pure entertainment provided with colourful 18th-century gracefulness’. Written for America in 1950 (hence the cheeky reference to ‘Way down upon the Swanee River’ in the finale), the concerto, for the most part, certainly bubbles with joie de vivre; but music does not play itself, and the distinct attraction of this performance by Lortie with the BBC Philharmonic under Edward Gardner is the way in which orchestral colour, as well as piano texture, is so clearly defined and zestfully articulated.
That is true of the outer movements, at any rate: in the central one, Poulenc’s romantically tinged melody is done with discretion, so that it comes across with a genuine warmth rather than any sense of irony. The more overtly dramatic passages make their points, and the shifts of mood and sonority are seamlessly made. The earlier concerto choréographique, Aubade (1929) for piano and 18 instruments and the D minor Concerto for two pianos (1932) both catch Poulenc in less riotous mood, more piquant in his use of instrumental timbres, less keen merely to please as he is in the later Concerto.
Lortie is joined by Hélène Mercier for cracking performances of the Two-Piano Concerto and the Sonata for four hands (1918, revised 1939), their distinctive acerbities given whiplash emphasis by both pianists (and by the orchestra in the concerto) and yet with their more lyrical leanings tenderly voiced. There are valuable interpretative insights here for even the most seasoned of Poulenc aficionados.