Stephen Layton / Danish National Vocal Ensemble

Half Monk, Half Rascal: Choeurs a Cappella by Francis Poulenc

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The title of the album featuring Stephen Layton and the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Half Monk, Half Rascal, seems to set up a dichotomy between the piety of the composer's religious music and the whimsicality of his secular works. With a few exceptions in the Chansons français, whose perky tempos stand out, there is not much stylistic contrast between the sacred and secular pieces until the rascally Chanson à boire, which closes the album. That ultimately doesn't matter much, though, because, taken simply as collection of Poulenc's a cappella choral music, the album is largely successful and engaging. These are popular works spanning the composer's career that are likely to be familiar to Poulenc enthusiasts and include the cycles Sept chansons, Un soir de neige, and Chansons françaises, and two groups for men's voices, Quatres petites prières de Saint François d'Assise and Laudes de Saint Antoine de Padoue. Layton pays exquisitely close attention to the details of the scores, especially subtleties of dynamics, and the Danish National Vocal Ensemble aptly follows his lead. Even so, the performances don't always achieve the kind of idiomatic Gallic nuance, the intense emotional focus that characterizes the most memorable performance of Poulenc. In "La blanche neige," for instance, the performance misses the swirling sweep that the sensual melismas cry out for. The men's voices in Quatre petites prières come closest to conveying the composer's passion. The ensemble can't be faulted on technique; its tone is pure and well blended. The sound is clean and clear, with a warm ambience.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Sept chansons
1 1:07
2 1:32
3 1:15
4 2:30
5 1:49
6 1:55
7 1:53
Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise
8 2:14
9 1:19
10 1:18
11 2:00
12 2:19
Un soir de neige
13 1:10
14 1:30
15 2:04
16 1:00
Laudes de Saint Antoine de Padoue
17 2:23
18 0:53
19 2:29
20 2:12
Chansons françaises
21 2:11
22 1:36
23 0:47
24 2:19
25 4:34
26 1:11
27 2:55
28 1:46
29 3:46
blue highlight denotes track pick