Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Two highly recommended re-releases of chansons and motets by Janequin and Poulenc on Harmonia Mundi’s HM Gold label

Harmonia Mundi www.harmoniamundi.com  have recently re-released a number of recordings on their HM Gold label of which I have selected two that reflect the wide range of music covered, Clément Janequin (c.1485-1558) and Francis Poulenc (1899-1963).

Le Chant des Oyseaulx
http://galatea-music.com/a.php?i=35&n=Ensemble_Clement_Janequin features Ensemble Clément Janequin in chansons by Clément Janequin. Ensemble Clément Janequin was founded in Paris in 1978, and performs sacred and secular vocal music of the Renaissance, from Josquin to Monteverdi. Their recordings for Harmonia mundi include Les cris de Paris, Le chant des oyseaulx, Fricassée parisienne and La chasse. 

HMG 501099

Janequin, born in Châtellerault, France, was a ‘clerc’ in Bordeaux and held a number of prebends there. He was briefly Master of Choirboys at Auch Cathedral before, in 1534, becoming Maître de Chapelle at Angers Cathedral. Around 1549 he settled in Paris where he became Chanter Ordinaire du Roi and, later, Compositeur Ordinaire du Roi. Janequin wrote over 250 chansons and 150 psalm settings and chansons spirituelles as well as two masses and one motet. Pieces such as Le chant des oiseaux, L’alouette, La chasse, Les Cris de Paris and La bataille are filled with onomatopoeic effects such as fanfares, birdsong and street cries. Often his music is harmonically static, depending on rhythmic invention for its effect.

Le chant des oyseaulx (Birdsong) (1528) is one of the works included on this re-release and that gives the disc its title, with Ensemble Clément Janequin bringing a lively fervour with some wonderful weaving of voices and some fabulously intricate bird like vocal imitations. Toutes les nuictz (Every night) (1547) is a gentle, sonorous chanson that shows off the Ensemble’s beautiful blending of voices in this melancholy piece. The livelier J’atens le temps (I pass the time) (1540) is equally well blended, joined by a lute, quietly and subtly accompanying the voices.

There is a beautifully pointed Il estoit une fillette (There was a maiden) (1540) and a beautifully sung Chanson de Janequin (1540) followed by Pièce pour luth de Guillaume Morlaye d’après Janequin (1552), a lute solo, finely played by Claude Debôves. The lively Ung jour Colin (One day Colin) (1536) is so well controlled with a lovely quiet interlude before O doulx regard (Oh sweet look) (1548) an beautiful song, exquisitely sung.  Le chant de l’alouette (The song of the lark) (1528) brings again bird like vocal sounds, wonderfully characterised by the Ensemble Clément Janequin.  The performance of this chanson is a very fine achievement.

The lovely pastoral Quand contrement verras (When will you see) (1549) is followed by Hellas mon Dieu (Alas my God) (1545) where the Ensemble is really lovely in this rather penitential song, pleading for an end to distress. With Ma peine n’est pas grande (My pain is not great) (1545) we are very much back in the secular world in this lively song where each voice shows through. O mal d’aymer (Oh love’s woe) (1544) is another of Janequin’s exquisite songs so beautifully sung whilst Herbes et fleurs (Herbs and flowers) 1555) has some particularly fine part writing. L’aveuglé Dieu (God does not see) (Pièce pour luth d’Albert de Rippe d’après Janequin) (1552) is another fine lute solo from Claude Debôves who accompanies the Ensemble in A ce joly moys de may (In the merry month of May) (1543), a lovely evocation of May. Assouvy suis (I am surfeited) (1529) a surprisingly gentle piece on the words ‘I am surfeited, but I do not cease desiring’ is beautifully done. A lovely performance.

Quelqu’un me disoit l’aultre jour (Someone told me the other day) (1550) brings such fine blending of voices in yet another lovely song before a jolly M’y levay ung matin (I rose up one fine morning) (1529). M’amye a eu de Dieu (My love has God’s gift) (1540) has some more great part writing with some of the more tricky passages brilliantly done and the final chanson Le chant du rossignol (The song of the nightingale) (1537) again brings vocal bird imitations in this terrific final song.

This small ensemble comprising Dominique Visse (countertenor), Michel Laplénie (tenor), Philippe Cantor (baritone), Antoine Sicot (bass) and Claude Debôves (lute) are absolutely terrific. With an excellent recording, full texts and translations and excellent notes this re-release is thoroughly recommended.

The disc of works by Francis Poulenc features sacred and secular unaccompanied choral works with the RIAS Kammerchoir www.rias-kammerchor.de directed by Daniel Reuss www.danielreuss.com/E_index.html  and Marcus Creed. The RIAS Chamber Choir is one of the world's leading professional choirs comprising some thirty five professionally trained singers. The ensemble was founded in 1948 as a choir of Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) but continues to this day performing with the radio orchestras and choirs GmbH Berlin. Their Chief conductor since 2007 is Hans-Christoph Rademann.

HMG 508394.95

Poulenc’s Sept Chansons pour choeur mixte was written in 1936 and set poems by Paul Éluard and Guillaume Apollinaire . In La blanche neige (The white snow) the RIAS Choir under Daniel Reuss are precise and flexible with a lovely range of voices sounding through in this lovely setting of Apollinaire.  A peine défigurée (Hardly disfigured) is a beautiful setting where Poulenc varies the tempo and feeling to great effect. Female voices soar over passages sung by the rest of choir in Par une nuit nouvelle (A new night) as Poulenc packs so much into this little song. Tous les droits (Every right) has an ecstatic opening and effective use of individual sections of the choir who are fabulous in this piece. Belle et ressemblante (Beautiful resemblance) is beautifully sung, following every  inflection and nuance and Marie is a lively chanson that alternates between shorter phrases and a longer breathed flowing melody with a striking and lovely ending.

An outburst from the choir opens Luire (Shine) on the words ‘.Terre irréprochablement cultivée…’ (impeccably cultivated land) After a quiet section the choir bursts out again with some great singing.  

Settings of texts by Eluard feature again in Poulenc’s Un soir de neige ( A snowy Evening), petite cantata sur un texte de Paul Eluard (1944) Pure female voices open Le feu (Fire), a lovely setting where the blending of voices is terrific. This is a superb performance. The lovely Un loup (A wolf) is sung with great sensitivity with the female voices spot on. What superb singing there is in Derniers instants (Last moments), blended, sonorous and controlled, whilst the simple little chanson Du dehors (From outside) is so affectively written and superbly sung.

Poulenc’s Figure Humaine (Human Figure) Cantate sur un texte de Paul Eluard (1943) provides the title piece for this collection.  Male voices open Bientôt (Shortly) a lovely setting of Éluard, the RIAS choir following every change of mood that Poulenc requires. In Le rôle des femmes (The Role of Women), female voices suitably open with some terrific part writing for the whole choir when they appear.

A quiet, gentle Aussi bas que le silence (As low as silence) shows Poulenc the master composer of vocal music before Patience rises from a quiet  beginning to become quiet forceful, before falling back, all within just four lines of verse in this fine setting. Première marche – La voix d’un autre (First step - the voice of another) is brilliantly done, really bouncing along.

Un loup (A wolf) is another setting of the poem used by Poulenc in Un soir de neige, an exquisite song perfectly sung. Un feu sans tache (Unblemished fire) has a kind of syncopated rhythm with the choir not putting a foot wrong. There is a quiet and sensitive middle section that sounds so French. Finally there is Liberté, so distinctive a piece subtly enhancing the texts with a constantly shifting mood.

Quatre petites prières de sainte François d’Assise (Four little prayers of St. Francis of Assisi)  (1948) opens with I Salut, Dame Sainte, restrained, yet passionate with rich sounds from the RIAS choir’s male singers and quite beautiful.  II Tout puissant, très saint (Almighty, Most Holy) is a fervent prayer, yet Poulenc always varies the emotion with quiet moments. Seignieur, je vous en prie (Lord, please) has some lovely vocal textures and the final setting is O mes très chers frères (O my dear Brothers) where a solo tenor opens before the choir enters in this lovely piece. These are exquisite settings, exquisitely sung.

Chanson à boire (Drinking Song) (1922) sets anonymous texts in this lively drinking song with some great vocal effects, so well done .

The second disc in this set is conducted by Marcus Creed and opens with Poulenc’s

Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence (Four Motets for a time of penance) (1938/39). Timor et tremor (Fear and Trembling) is a more ecclesiastical sounding piece, restrained yet never static, always moving, ebbing and flowing.  Vinea mea electa (Cast out my vines) is such a fine setting, beautifully sung with the music constantly moving and changing. Tenebrae factae sunt (Darkness) starts low with chant like singing in this striking piece, with dissonances that must be one of Poulenc’s finest sacred settings. The RIAS choir do it proud. Tristis est anima mea (My soul is sorrowful) has a lovely opening for soprano before the music speeds up. A wonderful motet, beautifully sung.

There is a rather lighter feel to Exultate Deo (1941) which seems like a work that led the way to later models and the flowing Salve Regina (1941) brings us back to a more restrained world in this lovely motet.

Quatre Motets pour en temps de Noël. (Four motets for Christmas) (1952) opens with O magnum mysterium, (O great sacred mystery) another lovely motet followed by Quem vidistis pastores dicite (what have you seen, shepherds, speak!) with lovely dynamics from the choir in this fine setting that rises to a central climax before falling to a more restrained ending. A beautifully constructed Videntes stellam (seeing the star) gives this choir the opportunity to show so much and a joyful Hodie Christus natus est (today, Christ is born) ends this otherwise fairly restrained set of motets. I must mention the excellent diction as well as the choir’s tremendous agility.

The last work of this set is Poulenc’s Messe en sol Majeur (Mass in G Major) (1939) with an ebullient Kyrie. The choir has a lovely upper range, never strident. Poulenc’s Messe contains what must be one of the most original Glorias ever written, exquisitely and sensitively sung. In the Sanctus there is some lovely, lithe singing with the RIAS choir dealing with Poulenc’s little inflections so well. In the lovely Benedictus there is some beautiful singing as the RIAS choir slowly build the power in this music. The soprano solo opening to the Agnus Dei is beautifully done by Stephanie Möller with the RIAS choir’s exquisite singing bringing a lovely end to this mass as the solo soprano enters again.

The recordings from 2004 and 1995 respectively are first rate. There are excellent notes but sadly the texts are only in French and Latin. This beautifully sung disc is highly recommended. 

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