Plenty of Poulenc

In a terrific NAXOS collection of Francis Poulenc vocal and instrumental works, baritone Franck Leguérinel has a ball singing Francis Poulenc’s Masked Ball (Le Bal Masqué), a zany surrealist concoction with text by the composer’s gay, converted Catholic, soulmate, Max Ernst, whose harrowing end in a French hospital while awaiting extradition to Auschwitz was in ironically tragic contrast to his devil-may-care life.

Poulenc’s sardonically wacky setting of Ernst’s sometimes outrageous, sometimes heartfelt verse is one of several treasures found in the fourth of five volumes of the NAXOS collection Poulenc Complete Chamber Music (8.505258) a set of CD’s that in addition to including several compositions for a variety of instrumental ensembles also offers Le Bestiaire, a miniaturist setting of six of Apollinaire’s descriptions of furry, feathered, and scaled critters.

Also featured in the mostly-vocal volume are four of Poulenc’s settings of Max Ernst’s poems. Ranging from the nonsensical wordplay of C’est pour aller au bal to the poignancy of Poete et Tenor, Leguérinel delivers these little gems with honest vocalism in a pleasantly bright Baryton Martin coupled to a native speaker’s impeccable command of the text.

The Rhapsodie Negre, written when the composer was 17 years old is a silly musical joke that today would be dismissed as a politically incorrect work, were it not for its youthful provenance.

The delightfully varied album closes with Poulenc’s Cocardes, a small collection of instrumental and vocal ditties again featuring the resourceful Leguérinel in the good company of a dozen instrumentalists.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS