The buyer seeking an overview of Francis Poulenc's music and of its place in its own time would be disappointed upon purchasing this disc, despite its title of Poulenc and His Contemporaries. The program focuses on one specific part of his career: the religious choral music, mostly a cappella, that he wrote later in life, after a experiencing a renewed impulse toward Catholic worship after the untimely death of a friend. And the other composer with multiple works appearing on the album, Pierre Villette (there is also one short but tantalizing piece by Messiaen), is not a contemporary of Poulenc; born in 1926, he was very much Poulenc's successor. What the disc does do, however, it does very well. Several of the Poulenc pieces sung here (O magnum mysterium, Quem vidistis pastores dicite) are well loved among habitual choristers; they combine a classical sobriety with a very seductive French tunefulness. The all-male Choir of New College Oxford takes a rather cool approach to Poulenc; if you like to hear the flavor of Fauré, or of the Parisian music hall, in these pieces, you may find this choir of children and adults a bit punctilious. But the Mass in G major, a slightly more abstract work, fares well indeed with this quite skilled British group, and the Villette pieces, less well known, will be satisfying discoveries for anyone who has ever wondered about Poulenc's influence. And the choir absolutely nails the Litanies à la Vierge noire (Litanies to the Black Virgin), the first piece Poulenc wrote in this new idiom, and a work that captures the fervor of religious conversion (or reconversion) in a remarkable way. Strongly recommended.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise, for men's chorus, FP 142|
|Mass in G major for chorus, FP 89|