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Mon, 27 Feb 2006

Poulenc concerto

Francis Poulenc
Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor*
Piano Concerto
Aubade (concerto choreographique pour piano et 18 instruments)
CD, Apex

Francois-Rene Duchable piano
Jean-Philippe Collard piano*
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
James Conlon conductor
Recorded in De Doelen, Rotterdam, June and October 1984

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was born in Paris and received his initial piano tuition from his mother, an amateur pianist. Despite spending lots of time in the Loire valley to find the solitude he much preferred city life to the countryside. He was called to military service twice, the first time being in early 1918, during which he served a ten-day sentence in military prison for overstaying a leave in his beloved Paris. An open homosexual, he had his first relationship with the painter, Richard Chanelaire. Poulenc was described by the critic Claude Rostand in a Paris-Presse article (July 1950) as being “half bad boy, half monk.” His musical output is diverse and shows a large range of influences – one of the defining features of his music. These influences include Stravinsky, Satie and Chabrier. He was refused a place at the Paris Conservatoire by the composition teacher Paul Vidal who said “Your work stinks… Ah! I see you’re a follower of the Stravinsky and Satie gang. Well, goodbye!” When Stravinsky heard of this, he arranged for works by Poulenc to be printed by Chester Music. Posterity has shown which of these two composers (Vidal and Poulenc) has been more noted in the history of music anyhow, mainly by the fact that Poulenc was included in the formidable “Les Six.” He wrote over 150 French art songs, set to the words of many avant-garde poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire and Paul Eluard, with whom he was friends.

The second piano concerto was composed in 1932 and can be described as being pure entertainment. The mood is generally fun and light, with sparkling solo parts, executed brilliantly by both pianists with vigour, blending extremely well. The concerto for piano, composed in 1949, has (in addition to the usual piano concerto pyrotechnics) sumptuous, unforgettable melodies (this is one of my favourites) that Duchable plays with both impressive technical ability and artistic sensibility. The same can be said for Aubade, composed in 1929, which is a unique concerto (hinted at in its title) for 18 instruments; basically for solo piano and chamber orchestra, originally commissioned as a ballet. It can almost be seen as programme music, in the fact that its subject is of Diana’s chastity and solitude, with Poulenc saying himself: “At daybreak, surrounded by her companions, Diana rebels against the divine law condemning her to eternal purity. Her companions console her, and restore her sense of divinity by presenting her with a bow. Sorrowfully, Diana seizes it, then bounds into the forest, seeking, in the hunt, a derivative to her amorous torrents.” In this track, you get a real sense of the chamber music ensemble between the members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (soloists in their own right in this case) and the pianist, admirably directed by James Conlon.

M.North

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