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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Poulenc, Sabat Mater, Carolyn Sampson, Estonian Chamber Choir and National Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Reuss

Through serendipity I've never heard Poulenc's Sabat Mater until now. Harmonia Mundi was kind to send me a copy of the version featuring Carolyn Sampson in the soprano role along with the Estonian Chamber Choir and National Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Reuss. I am surely glad they did.

Poulenc wrote the work in 1950 following the death of Christian Bernard, who among other things designed sets for Cocteau. The composer describes it as a "requiem without despair", and indeed, it is more beautiful and consoling than mournful.

It is a striking work with the choir taking pride of place. You can imagine the composer doing his composing on a piano, in part because it is much more homophonic than polyphonic. You can imagine him trying out various voicing possibilities until he was satisfied. The results are in the choral tradition but a good deal more post-romantic/modern than neo-baroque or neo-classical.

And why not? It is a work that stands on its own as a singularly moving elegy, with harmonic movement that is nothing short of extraordinary. Sampson and the amassed choir and orchestra under Reuss give us a tender and dramatic reading of the work.

It's a side of Poulenc I've missed and I am glad to have caught up to it at last. The version offered here is sonically stunning and state-of-the-art.

Do not hesitate.

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