Poulenc – Mass in G Major; Sept Chansons; Motets
Elora Festival Singers; Noel Edison
This disc features a cappella choral works of Poulenc, both sacred and secular. Exquisite as they are, these works pose a considerable challenge to a choir, with soprano lines that soar high into the ether, daring chromaticism and shifting, often-ambiguous harmonies with no instrumental accompaniment to grasp on to.
Though serious in nature, the Mass in G Major, written in 1937 after the death of Poulenc’s father and the composer’s return to Catholicism, retains some of the playfulness inherent in the Cocteau-esque Sept Chansons from his more youthful years with Les Six. Each of the chansons references a body part: arms, face, breasts, eyes, hair and hands and textually and musically are as steeped in hedonism as in wit. The most dramatic contrast with these, perhaps, is provided in the Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (1938-39), a sombre meditation on Holy Week while the Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël (1952) convey all the mystery and joy of the season.
Noel Edison leads the Elora Festival Singers adeptly through these varied and difficult ranges of character and emotion with enviable accuracy of pitch and perfectly nuanced expression.