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Francis Poulenc: La Voix humaine, FP 171 – Sinfonietta, FP 141
Ayako Tanaka (solo violin), Véronique Gens (soprano), National Orchestra of Lille, Alexandre Bloch (conductor)
Recording: L’Auditorium du Nouveau Siècle, Lille, France (January 7‑8 and 25‑29, 2021) – 70’47
Alpha 899 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in French, English and German

Véronique Gens has graced many recording studios which have interfaced with Bru Zane over the years. Furthermore, the French soprano, who has mastered a plethora of character personalities under the French banner, has given this recording another blush of refreshed energy.

This time, we have the rare opportunity to hear Mlle Gens slip into the role as a tormented protagonist and in a unique reveal. Here is the unraveling of her personal investitures as Elle, the sole woman desperately clinging to her dramatic soliloquy that involves her ex‑lover in a series of emotionally tense and sporadic eclipses.

Poulenc’s tragédie lyrique was a vast magnetic showcase that lured multitudinous operatic singers, including voices of Denise Duval (from the 1959 première), Barbara Hannigan, Jessye Norman, Jane Rhodes and Felicity Lott, to name a few. La Voix humaine clocks in at a respectable 40 minutes, yet Mlle Gens’ portrayal creeps along a centimetre slower...not to worry. Those pregnant voids (at times, sizeable...under the careful council of Alexandre Bloch), all add to the grand heft inside Poulenc’s score.

The Poulenc/Cocteau friendship began brewing while both were members of Les Six, a cadre of independent and anti-establishment artists. Though Jean Cocteau completed his play in 1928, it wouldn’t be for another 30 years when Poulenc finally presented his score, having given the Cocteau storyline much thought and introspection. Francis Poulenc was firmly entrenched inside the playwright’s work, as he fastidiously wove his own personal experiences into the composition.

Alexandre Bloch avows openness and artistic candor. Poulenc painstakingly imbeds inside La Voix a myriad of musical motifs which add complexities and surprising conundums along the way. Véronique Gens possesses that uncanny knack at connecting inside the phyche of Elle, eliciting senses of verismo drama that frequently causes the listener to gasp for breath...it's musically taut while devoid of overzealous embellishments. Poulenc paves a rather succinct avenue.

La Voix humaine can be seen as an extension of Poulenc’s life and his personal struggles centering around depression. His own analytic convictions are keenly drawn into the spotlight with superb aplomb.

Counter to this, a sequence of musical compartments describes the overall ambience within Poulenc’s Sinfonietta. This piece acts as an emotional catharsis from the aforementioned. It also gives the listener a moment to breathe, decompressing and unpacking the intensities previously experienced. Here, Francis Poulenc brings about much needed refreshments as an outlet to “even out” the intensities recently encountered.

...let’s tip the hat at Alexandre Bloch’s determined musical parlances and reverential nuances.

Christie Grimstad




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