Polyphony / Stephen Layton

Poulenc: Gloria; Motets

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This is an appealing single disc of Poulenc's sacred choral music. Performed by the English choral group Polyphony and directed by seasoned conductor Stephen Layton, Poulenc's sacred music here sounds bright, deep, and joyous -- which, of course, it was. A born-again Catholic, Poulenc celebrated his religion with unrelentingly optimistic works that affirmed life and exalted the afterlife. From the biggest work here -- the Gloria for chorus, orchestra, and soprano solo -- to the smallest -- the Exultate Deo for chorus alone lasting two and a half minutes -- this is music of unswerving faith. Even in the darker Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence, the essential radiance transforms contrition into consolation. Polyphony brings a pure, warm tone, and crisp ensemble to this recording, making the works sound both monumental and intimate at the same time. Clarion soprano Susan Gritton is splendid in her three movements in the Gloria, and the Britten Sinfonia is both forceful and accommodating throughout the work. Though devoted Poulenc aficionados will already have their favorite French performances of these works, Layton and Polyphony's recordings deserve to be heard. Recorded in All Hallows Church in Gospel Oak, London, in 2007, Hyperion's digital sound is big, brilliant, and colorful.

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