Poulenc: Secular Choral Music / Straube, Norddeutscher Figuralchor

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This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

Most of the secular choral works of Francis Poulenc have enjoyed respectable treatment on disc--but not for awhile. This newcomer not only is equal to the best in the catalog, but it contains all of Poulenc's a cappella compositions in the genre, including the infrequently heard Petites voix. Although the masterpiece Figure humaine, written in 1943 during the Nazi occupation of France, is the big work here--and it's performed with spectacularly vivid ensemble clarity and all the poignancy that Poulenc must have intended with his very deliberate use of vocal timbre and expressive means--the generous program reminds us also of the merits of the composer's "lighter" works, particularly the Chansons françaises of 1945/46, Chanson à boire, for male choir, and Petites voix (1936), for treble voices. (Incidentally, there's a fine recording of the latter--the only one I know that actually uses real "petites voix"--performed by the Toronto Children's Chorus, available from Marquis.)

In listening to the entire program you also appreciate this excellent German choir's mastery of style, how these singers perfectly convey the array of moods and bring color and life to the poetic texts, from the dark and brooding "Bois meurtri" in Un soir de neige (can three chords be more evocative than those that open this piece?) to the "click, clack" of the clogs and the "tip and tap" of the weavers' looms in the Chansons françaises.

While these works are quite challenging for any choir, they are so masterfully written that even within the more extended harmonies (9ths and 11ths, for instance) there is easily discernible melodic continuity and even the occasionally odd modulations and the more dissonant moments or passages never seem gratuitous but rather grow naturally from what has come before and flow equally naturally onward. Texture is an important component in this music, and thus carefully judged ensemble balance is critical--and it need not be said that the often very exposed voicing cannot tolerate the slightest lapse in intonation.

The choir meets these tests admirably, and the expert recording sets it all in a complementary acoustic at an ideal listening perspective, allowing us to appreciate the full, finely polished sound, whether of men or women alone or of the entire 50-voice ensemble. (A non-musical feature that English-language listeners will appreciate is MDG's printing of the original French texts along with English translations rather than including only German ones, as some German labels tend to do. However, German translations of the texts can be found at MDG's website.) Essential!

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 9471595-6

  • UPC: 760623159560

  • Label: MDG

  • Composer: Francis Poulenc

  • Conductor: Jörg Straube

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: North German Figuralchor