After a lot of procrastinating and delay I finally purchased a copy of Figure Humaine, the choral works of Poulenc by Tenebrae. When I was in London studying English choral music I took the opportunity to attend one of Tenebrae’s rehearsal at St. Bartholomew’s Church. They were rehearsing the Vespers/All-night vigil by Rachmaninov. I was floored by their interpretation of movement ten “Having Beheld the Resurrection.” It’s a particularly difficult movement that never seems to stay in tune, but in rehearsal they executed it with great sensitivity, power and precision.
During our trip there I heard about this new recording of Poulenc’s choral music that was hot off the presses. Dr. Staheli happened to be present at a few of their recording sessions and raved about how wonderful they were. I was determined to get a hold of this recording. After much delay, it arrived today.
It’s got some works on here that I’ve never heard of, only heard excerpts of, and one work that I’ve performed. The latter which I performed is Un soir de neige (A night of snow), I can tell you from experience that that work is extremely difficult to learn and perform. It’s not the most difficult piece I’ve encountered but it’s an all out challenge. One of the most difficult parts is getting used to such a different tonality, it’s nothing like I’ve ever heard. Bits of tonality, modality and atonality all in one compact work. I really grew to love that work and all it’s harsh and biting dissonance that sets up such bleak picture of the cruel winter.
Listening to the work, my first impression is that it’s recorded extremely well. Everything is in it’s proper place. The choir is in a great space with just the right distance between the microphones and the choir. They’re going against what other choral recordings are doing right now which is to put the microphones much too close, the sound becomes too intimate and aspirate.
The singing is top notch. Well tuned, precise and powerful. This music becomes a joy to listen to, which on its own can be a real challenge. This isn’t really meant to be heard in the background of other work. It’s demands your rapt attention, and Tenebrae’s singing matches every step of the way. This is a dark recording done so exquisitely. The subject matter can be moody, depressing and in some ways expresses no redemption; It’s definitely not for every mood, but when you’re in the mood, it’s just the thing to hit the spot.
Yes there are a few things that I might prefer otherwise but they’re a matter of preference, I’m hard pressed to find errors. If you want to become more acquainted with Poulenc’s choral music in a nearly flawless light, this is the recording.