Combining works by Debussy and Poulenc on an album may, to some, seem a bit ironic seeing as at one point, the latter railed against the music of the former. Poulenc was later to change his tune, though, and eventually became one of Debussy's most ardent admirers. The two were greatly responsible for a new direction in French music, which, ironically, required both of them to look to composers of the past for inspiration.
There is no shortage of recordings of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, one of the most popular pieces in the classical repertory ever since its slow-movement clarinet solo underlaid the quintessence of cinematic romance, Brief Encounter. But this one, by pianist Alexandre Tharaud (he may not be as well known as the decision to omit his first name in the graphics would presume, but he's getting there), is worth strong consideration.
This excellent first volume in what promises to be a two-disc collection of Poulenc's complete chamber music offers performances that compare favorably with the best available. All of the musicians are superb, but several deserve special mention. Alexandre Tharaud plays Poulenc's piano parts with great flair, wit, and a true feeling for the music's manic shifts from raucous high spirits to nostalgia and melancholy. Since all of these works feature the piano, the importance of his contribution can't be overestimated.
The narrators are two gifted children, the pianist Alezandre Tharaud, whose acute playing has sparked the series. Set for narrator and small ensemble and originally improvised to please the composer's three-year old cousin, the tale of Babar the Elephant receives a charming performance from Alexandre Tharaud and friends with child narrators on this fifth instalment of Naxos's chamber-music series.
Naxos’ first-rate edition of Poulenc’s complete chamber music continues with this very fine collection of shorter pieces and song cycles for voice and small ensemble. Baritone Franck Leguérinel turns in a smashing performance of Le Bal masqué from its manic opening Air de bravoure to the hysterical falsetto antics in the closing Caprice. He’s equally fine in Le Bestiaire, but the cruel vocal line and harmonic acerbities of the Max Jacob songs prove less congenial, though he’s no less stylistically assured.
Naxos' triumphant march through Poulenc's complete chamber music continues with this latest release containing, among a host of smaller items, a smashing performance of the magnificent Sonata for Two Pianos, one of the composer's greatest large works in any medium. Alexandre Tharaud and Francis Chaplin play beautifully…hypnotically seductive in the slow introduction and third movement, while the faster music has the right rhythmic skittishness and crisp articulation. The other outstanding performance here is the Sonata for horn, trumpet, and trombone. This awkward but charming piece has seldom sounded better balanced and more natural (not to mention in tune), and it's very well recorded in a warm acoustic. The other pieces are trifles, but no less enjoyable for that. Another winner.
Francis Poulenc reportedly felt uncomfortable writing for piano and strings and had harsh things to say about both the violin and cello sonatas, remarks duly parroted by critics and biographers ever since. And yet the fact remains that they are his most ambitious, lengthiest, and emotionally complex chamber works. As so often happens in these circumstances, it’s much easier to regurgitate received opinion than it is to actually listen to the music and take it on its own terms.