A Poulenc Festival

Poulenc cover

POULENC: Aubade.* Le Bal masque.+ Flute Sonata.# Sextet / Mark Bebbington, pno; *Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Jan Latham-Koenig, cond; +Roderick Williams, bar; #Emer McDonough, fl / Resonus 10276

I’m not sure what prompted the creation of this CD, but any new release of Poulenc’s music is generally cause for rejoicing. I can’t think of too many other 20th-century composers as universally loved as he is; there’s just something ebullient in his scores that generally make people happy. Even his monodrama La Voix Humaine is enjoyed by people who otherwise detest modern opera. Only Dialogues of the Carmelites is really too heavy-handed for enjoyment.

Ironically, I had never heard his Aubade (1929), one of his first completed works, before, but it’s typically charming Poulenc and difficult to fathom why he had such a hard time writing it. But he was a man of contradictions; so much of his music is happy and charming, whereas he himself, though equally charming, was generally depressed and miserable.

And this is a nice, brisk, charming performance by pianist Mark Bebbington with the Royal Philharmonic…perhaps just a bit over-resonant in the recorded sound, but for the mot part crisp and sharply-defined. Jan Latham Koenig seems to be having as much fun conducting it as Bebbington and the orchestra sounds playing it.

Next up is his famous song cycle Le Bal Masque, sung by famed baritone Roderick Williams, and he, too is into the spirit of the music (if perhaps a little heavy on the vibrato). The flute sonata is less whimsical than the preceding pieces but certainly exudes Gallic charm, and flautist Emer McDonough complements Bebbington’s light, gossamer piano playing perfectly.

And then we finish things off with an absolutely rousing performance of the Sextet, another work that Poulenc fretted over and re-wrote until he was blue in the face…but you’d never know it from the clear, straightahead progression of the music.

All in all, an excellent album for Poulenc-lovers, even those who, like me, may have other performances of most of these works in our collection. Bravo, Mark Bebbington! Well done!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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