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Poulenc - Gloria & Motets - Audiophile Audition

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Francis Poulenc’s compositions were known for their color, wit and charm in the 1920s and 1930s. But up to that time he wasn’t taken seriously as a great musician. After all, it was Schoenberg, Stravinsky etc. that were the “serious” radicals of the day. In 1936 a close friend of Poulenc died in a tragic car accident and his works became more spiritually oriented, yet never lost their ‘joie de vivre.’ As Poulenc put it in a 1950 interview with Roland Gelatt: “The French realize that somberness and good humor are not mutually exclusive. Our composers, too, write profound music, but when they do, it is leavened with a lightness of spirit without which life would be unendurable.”

Poulenc became one of the great sacred choral composers of the twentieth century. Gloria (1959) for mixed choir, soprano and orchestra is an example of his mastery of synthesizing a restrained yet joyful ecstasy with twentieth century spikiness. By reducing the forces in this recording, Stephen Layton reveals their dissonance without mitigating their heartfelt religious spirit. The result is a freshness and clarity that sheds new light on this work. Susan Gritton’s soprano voice is thin at times, but soars above the choral forces in a way that emphasizes the work’s ardor. The recording, made in All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, is a perfect combination of immediacy and religious resonance that clarifies the musical forces without lessening ambience. This is a significant and groundbreaking recording of this great work.

Poulenc was also a master composer of songs and the four motets that complete this disc display his lyrical and innovative gifts. Quatre motets pour le temps de penitence is a tender and powerful statement. The choral group Polyphony sings with passion, commitment and startling accuracy. If you aren’t familiar with Poulenc’s choral brilliance, this disc is a perfect place to start.

Robert Moon

Poulenc - Gloria & Motets
Hyperion Records CDA67623