Tenebrae / Nigel Short

Figure Humaine: Choral Works by Francis Poulenc

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Poulenc had shown little interest in choral music early in his career, and it wasn't until 1936, after his return to the Roman Catholic Church, that he began to give his energy to the genre in which he produced some of his most productive, original, and memorable work. This collection of some of his most significant choral music of the 1930s and 1940s, both sacred and secular, features the British choral ensemble Tenebrae, founded and conducted by Nigel Short. Litanies á la Vierge Noir, for women's voices and organ, the 1936 piece that initiated this creative period, has the character of a gentle supplication, and the singers beautifully capture the reverent piety of the setting but don't always rise to the more robust lyricism of the most impassioned moments. The group has no problems with being too reserved in the Mass in G from 1937; this is a piece in which Poulenc was able express both profound faith and a naughty flouting of the conventions of sacred music, and the singers throw themselves into the composer's quirky, eccentric setting with an ideal mix of fervor and playfulness. In Salve Regina, a more harmonically and melodically traditional work, the group demonstrates its mastery of warm, rounded, nuanced choral sound. The a cappella cantata Figure humaine, written in 1943 at the height of the French Resistance, to texts by Paul Eluard, is one of Poulenc's most heartfelt, politically urgent, and technically demanding works, and Tenebrae gives it an emotionally rich and deeply committed performance; the final movement, "Liberté," is exhilarating in its accumulating momentum. Signum's sound is clean, warm, and nicely ambient.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Mass in G
1 3:25
2 4:08
3 2:26
4 3:46
5 4:55
6 8:18
7 4:23
Un Soir de Neige
8 1:09
9 1:37
10 2:11
11 1:05
Figure Humaine
12 2:44
13 2:05
14 1:33
15 1:57
16 0:59
17 1:41
18 3:49
19 4:29
Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise
20 2:10
21 1:14
22 1:21
23 1:55
blue highlight denotes track pick