Friday, March 31, 2017

Francis Poulenc - Orchestral Works (Georges Prêtre)


Information

Composer: Francis Poulenc

CD1:
  • (01-09) Les biches (The Does), ballet, FP 36
  • (10) Bucolique, for "Variations sur le nom de Marguerite Long", FP 160
  • (11) Pastourelle, for "L'éventail de Jeanne", FP 45
  • (12) Matelote provençale, for "La guirlande de Campra", FP 153
  • (13) La baigneuse de Trouville (carte postale en couleurs), for "Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel", FP 23
  • (14) Discours du général, polka pour deux cornets à pistons, for "Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel", FP 23
  • (15-20) Suite française (d'après Claude Gervaise), FP 80
  • (21-26) Les animaux modèles, FP 111
CD2:
  • (01-04) Sinfonietta, FP 141
  • (05-07) Deux marches et un intermède, FP 88
  • (08-10) Concert champêtre, for harpsichord & orchestra, FP 49
  • (11-13) Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra in D minor, FP 61

Aimée van de Wiele, harpsichord (CD2 8-10)
Jacques Février & Francis Poulenc, pianos (CD2 11-13)
Ambrosian Singers (CD1 1-9)
Philharmonia Orchestra (CD1 1-12)
Orchestre de Paris (CD1 13-20, CD2 1-7)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (CD1 21-26, CD2 8-13)
Georges Prêtre, conductor

Date: 1962, 1965, 1968, 1980
Compilation: 1990
Label: EMI France

Clarification: This collection has some duplicates with other Poulenc post. The ballet "Les biches" is the same recording, with older master. "Concert champêtre" and "Concerto for 2 pianos" are entirely different recordings. These ones were remade in stereo by the same soloists, orchestra and conductor in 1962 (the older recordings are mono and made in 1957).


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Review

These recordings of Les biches and Pastourelle derive from 1981, while the Aubade and Les animaux modèles were recorded in 1966. Dates and sound aside, there’s little difference between the two sets of performances. Prêtre put his individual stamp on everything he conducted, for better or worse. He always emphasized precision and energy. Sometimes, as in his Les pêcheurs de perles and La traviata, this unfailingly no-nonsense approach was greatly to the detriment of the music. At other times, as in this release, Prêtre found exactly the right style. His Poulenc had hard edges and sharp corners. It never avoided the glaring emotional dissonances that swept quickly from flowering gardens to jazz cabarets, with melodies and harmonies snatched and transformed from other composers past and present.

The strongest competition for these selections comes from Dutoit/Orchestre National de France (London/Decca 2LH 452937). Aided by digital engineering, Dutoit brings out far more of the color in this rich music. Prêtre’s Les biches is by comparison slightly distant in its engineering, while the Aubade and Les animaux modèles are a bit constricted and airless, with minor signs of distortion during very loud passages. But Dutoit’s Poulenc has a smoothed-over sound that could very well pass for any of several composers from the early part of the century. The Poulenc of Prêtre is distinctly brasher and more vivid, in a series that bore the composer’s imprimatur. Some of this may be due to changes over recent years in the timbre of French orchestras, which tends more recently towards an international norm (for better and worse). However, Prêtre gets that pungent sound in Les biches from the Philharmonia, so a good case can be made for the conductor recreating an aural environment that he recognized as true to its source.

The liner notes feature a new, lengthy article dedicated almost entirely to Prêtre, who, we are told, is a very humble man who venerates the composers whose works he conducts. What a shame EMI didn’t share that viewpoint and give us an article about Poulenc and his music, instead.

For all the wealth of colorful detail in Dutoit, this release remains for me a touchstone of how to conduct Poulenc. In all its vulgarity, humor, sentimentality, and sensitivity, it’s well worth your acquaintance.

-- Barry Brenesal, FANFARE

More reviews:

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Francis Poulenc (7 January 1899 – 30 January 1963) was a French composer and pianist. He was a member of group Les Six. His compositions include mélodies, solo piano works, chamber music, choral pieces, operas, ballets, and orchestral concert music. Poulenc had a reputation, particularly in his native country, as a humorous, lightweight composer, and his religious music was often overlooked. During the 21st century more attention has been given to his serious works. Poulenc's music is essentially diatonic.

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Georges Prêtre (14 August 1924 – 4 January 2017) was a French orchestral and opera conductor. He studied harmony under Maurice Duruflé and conducting under André Cluytens among others at the Conservatoire de Paris. Prêtre is best known for performances of French music and especially associated with Francis Poulenc. He was also famous for his world premiere recording of Joseph Jongen's Symphonie Concertante with Virgil Fox. Prêtre conducted the Vienna New Year's Concert twice, in 2008 and in 2010, the only French conductor to have been appointed for this role.

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