Poulenc: Piano Concerto, Concerto for Organ, String and Timpani & Stabat Mater
Alexandre Tharaud (piano), James O’Donnell (organ), Kate Royal (soprano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Choir, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)
The three works on this release were recorded live at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London in 2013 and 2014¹. Only the Organ Concerto has been released previously (LPO–0081). For this all-Poulenc offering the LPO has assembled a group of soloists of the highest quality to perform under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
The CD begins with Poulenc’s Piano Concerto, one of the composer’s lighter works, that was premiered in Boston in 1950. It is played by the distinguished French pianist Alexandre Tharaud and utilises a fairly small orchestra. Overall this is a joyous piece, with the exception of the sombre middle movement, and Tharaud’s light touch is ideally suited to this work. However the overall impression of the performance leaves something to be desired and does not quite hit the heights of one of my favourite versions from Pascal Rogé under Charles Dutoit with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
This is followed by an earlier work (1938), Poulenc’s Concerto in G minor for Organ, Strings & Timpani, in which the soloist is James O’Donnell, Organist of Westminster Abbey. This was Poulenc’s first foray into writing for the organ and it is written in the style of Stravinsky’s neo-Baroque works. The work consists of seven movements, played without pause. The opening of the work sounds for all the world like a fantasy by J.S. Bach! This Bach-fantasy motif appears again towards the end where Poulenc adds to it a melancholy theme in which the organ is joined by a solo viola and a solo cello. The work concludes with stark simplicity and the abruptness with which the concluding unison G arrives is quite startling. This is a splendid performance that comes across well on the Royal Festival Hall organ accompanied by some fine string playing from the LPO. Highly recommended!
The disc is completed by a first rate account of the Stabat mater with Kate Royal (soprano) and the London Philharmonic Choir in fine voice and the conductor, Nézet-Séguin who is clearly at one with this work, brings everything together perfectly. This work, with its promise of salvation through Christ’s suffering, is something of profound beauty and that really comes across in this performance.
I suspect that many Poulenc fans will already have this performance of the organ concerto in their collection but with such an excellent account of the Stabat mater they might be tempted to purchase this release anyway. If you have neither the organ concerto or the Stabat mater in your collection then this release can be recommended wholeheartedly.
¹ The Piano Concerto and Stabat Mater on 23 October 2013 and the Organ Concerto on 26 March 2014.