The two works on this album present diametrically opposed sides of Francis Poulenc's musical personality and career. Les biches (it means "the does," in case you were wondering) is a joyous, somewhat raucous ballet of Poulenc's youth, an answer to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring that touches on jazz, neoclassicism (specifically neo-Baroque styles), French popular music, and more in a consistently surprising mixture that includes an offstage choir. The Stabat Mater, composed after a friend's death in 1950, came after Poulenc's reconversion to Catholicism, and it is typical of the radiant, melodic, tonally oriented style of his later years. Conductor Stéphane Denève is emerging as a major conductor of French repertory, and he does a superb job here with the diverse styles of these two works. Les biches crackles with slightly illicit erotic energy. The limpid melodies of the Stabat Mater, as is so often the case with Poulenc, conceal parts that require really top-notch choral singing, and the combined efforts of Denève and the coaches of the combined NDR Choir and Vocal Ensemble of the Southwest German Radio get some spectacularly quiet and controlled choral sounds in the Stabat Mater. Sample the "Quam tristis," track 3, for some amazing controlled choral work at very low dynamic levels. The virtuoso quality of this entire effort commends it for sampling in a crowded marketplace of Poulenc recordings, as does the superb engineering from Hänssler, which renders these sterling choral performances in great detail.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Stabat Mater, für Sopran, gemischten Chor, und Orchester|
|Les biches, Ballett mit Gesang in einem Akt, für Chor und Orchester|