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Hansjörg Albrecht Francis Poulenc: Concertos for keyboard instruments OC 637 SACD
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FormatSuper Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 637
Release date06/01/2010
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Poulenc, Francis

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      Concertos for keyboard instruments
      Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra FP 61
      (version for two pianos, organ and percussion)
      Concert champêtre for harpsichord and orchestra FP 49
      (version for harpsichord, organ and percussion)
      Concerto in G minor for organ, strings and timpani FP 93
      Hansjörg Albrecht, organ and director
      Yaara Tal & Andreas Groethuysen, piano duo
      Peter Kofler, harpsichord · Babette Haag, percussion and timpani
      Bach Collegium Munich

      My music is my self-portrait,” said Francis Poulenc of his works. The composer’s personality was as brilliant as his music, which always contains something surprising, a change of level, a contrast between the “great” and the banal and between tradition and the avantgarde. Hansjörg Albrecht presents three concertos for keyboard instruments on his new CD of organ music; he himself takes the solo part in the concerto for organ, strings and timpani. In the harpsichord concerto and the concerto for two pianos and orchestra, he takes on the role of the orchestra, whose part he plays on the organ. With this, he harks back to performance practices typical of the early 20th century, particularly in France and the USA, where “salon organs” were often used in private salons for small concerts, and avant-garde composers presented their new works to an audience of connoisseurs.

      The value of this recording is also enhanced by the two soloists in the double piano concerto, the piano duo consisting of Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen, who have been counted among the world’s leading piano duos for many years.

      Twixt Boulevard & C hurch

      Portrait of an acoustic magician

      “The worst thing is when you want to go with the fashion and then you find you don’t like the fashion” / “I like it when the spirit of religion in the sun is expressed just as clearly and realistically as we perceive it in Romanesque capitals.”

      These two quotes originate from one of the most contradictory and at the same time most significant and brilliant composers of the twentieth century: Francis Poulenc. A man who saw himself neither as a revolutionary nor as an innovator, he was perhaps more French than any of his composer colleagues. A dandy and bon viveur, who remained true longest to the ideals of “Les Six” (the group of six composers to which he belonged, who all eschewed impressionism, affectation, bombast and the adoration of Wagner in favour of a new simplicity and a preference for everything that was deemed uncomplicated, such as childhood, vaudeville, the circus, dance halls and jazz bands), left to posterity an exquisite and unbelievably elegant wealth of music tinged with just a touch of charming vulgarity.

      Blessed with a lively spirit and a profound sensitivity and from time to time a cheeky and mischievous side (in laconic self-description he referred to himself as “Janus Poulenc”), he viewed constant changes in sound and style as perfectly normal aspects of his multi-layered musician’s personality (“my music is my self-portrait”). Poulenc blended stylistic influences with one another instead of exchanging one musical idea for another, thus combining the lasting influence of Igor Stravinsky, whom he greatly admired (in 1921, Poulenc spoke of a “crise de Stravinskysme” in his work) with his predilection for “l’adorable musique mauvaise”. This reference to “wonderfully bad music” is actually an allusion to some of his favourite melodies, which Poulenc’s mother played on the piano to him as a child. What is more, he was a past master at “quoting” from any number of Classical- Romantic works by other composers, or alluding to them in his own works. Poulenc’s life changed dramatically when in 1936 he learned of the tragic death of his fellow musician Pierre- Octave Ferroud and undertook a pilgrimage to the abbey church of Rocamadour in a mood of deep shock and in a desire to gravitate to “the spiritual life”. The peaceful atmosphere of the place of pilgrimage seems to have had such a profound effect on him that his sense of the religious, until then a very low-key element of his life, was suddenly awoken, thereby opening up completely new aspects of his stylistic vocabulary, which then naturally flowed into his composing style. This new mix of spiritual, secular and to some extent profane elements understandably polarised his contemporaries; some were deeply shocked, while others wondered at his magical ability to create such a colourful and brilliant musical “self-portrait”.

      In the first half of the twentieth century many large, private music venues were built (in France and the USA, for example), with facilities such as an organ with orchestral-symphonic registers and a concert grand piano, where new works for this combination of instruments (by the likes of Marcel Dupré, Jean Langlais and Joseph W. Clockey) could be performed, and established orchestral works or solo concertos could receive a new airing by playing the orchestral part on the organ – the only instrument, thanks to its rich wealth of varying voices (registers), that is able to imitate other instruments and the sound of a great orchestra.

      Following in this tradition, I have chosen for this organ transcription CD two wonderfully expressive solo concertos by Francis Poulenc, whom I greatly admire, and have played the orchestral part with the organ in order to demonstrate the myriad possible permutations and the orchestral timbres of the organ, which evince an even greater and more enticing radiance through this music than is normally possible in the case of so many organ repertoire pieces. To partner these two works, I have chosen Poulenc’s organ concerto, in which the organ takes the role of solo instrument. It is acknowledged as the organ concerto par excellence; in a genre almost of its own, it is as popular as many of the famous piano concertos of the twentieth century and is played worldwide on the great concert stages. Even though the organ occupies only a niche in Poulenc’s oeuvre, he appears to have developed the purity and force of this exceptional instrument by using it as the accompaniment to the female choir in his first sacred work, the Litanies à la Vierge noire, where it has a sweet and almost hypnotic effect.

      The Concerto for two pianos, premiered at the International Society for Contemporary Music’s festival in September 1932 in Venice,

      follows a relatively simple and comprehensible format, beginning as it does with two powerful chords and signalling the launch of a pyrotechnic display of timbres and rhythms. According to the composer, who gave the premiere himself together with his friend Jacques Février and orchestra of La Scala Milan, this concerto is “100% pure Poulenc”. He incorporated elements from two musicians he greatly admired: Stravinsky in the fast passages (“because he had a brilliant imagination, a brilliant sense of form and a brilliant grasp of timbre”) and Mozart (“whom I prefer to all other composers”) in the Larghetto. In this work, Poulenc’s typical vaudeville style is interlaced with passages in sentimental mood.

      The Harpsichord Concerto (“Concert champêtre”) written in 1927/28 for the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska is a perfect example of Poulenc’s early neo-classicist style. Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments of 1924 appears to have served him as inspiration, as both works begin with a slow, grave introduction, an homage to the Baroque French overture, which develops into a lively Allegro; in the finale of the harpsichord concerto there is even a short quotation from the Air from Handel’s Suite No. 5 in E known as The Harmonious Blacksmith. Added to this is of course the “historical” sound of the solo harpsichord. For our recording, we were fortunate to have one of those great instruments with stop pedals at our disposal, built in the first half of the twentieth century, in the hope of rekindling the Baroque spirit; though they are not comparable with the copies of real Baroque harpsichords with which we are familiar today, these instruments do have their own charm. Ostinato sequences reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, scenes which could provide background music to a Miss Marple film, and heartrending chanson melodies all offer a colourful

      kaleidoscope of Poulenc’s imaginative powers. Poulenc himself expressed the view that he had intended the work to evoke the “forest at Saint- Leu, where Rousseau and Diderot went walking, where Couperin and Landowska too had spent time”. For her part, Wanda Landowska, who premiered the concerto in 1929 under the baton of Pierre Monteux, said she felt “completely unburdened and happy” when playing this concerto.

      The Organ Concerto of 1938, which is a far more serious work, apparently as a result of Poulenc’s new religious fervour, was composed as a commission for the Princess of Polignac to be played exclusively as a concert piece. The work, influenced perhaps by the profound emotions of J.S. Bach’s ecstatic Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, comprises just one large-scale movement sub-divided into seven parts; with aural cascades that mount up like the walls of a great cathedral, its rhythmic pulsing, the catchy tunes possibly picked up on the streets of a Paris boulevard and a mood at times dreamily solemn, it has the feel of a wide-arching rhapsody. It is remarkable for the variety of its musical ideas and
      its highly sophisticated use of organ timbre with strings and kettledrums. The composer and organist Maurice Duruflé developed the organ register indications to this concerto for Poulenc and was indeed the soloist at the premiere.

      Boulevard & church or A musical balancing act: “The worst thing is when one wants to follow the fashion, but doesn’t like the fashion.” Fashions come and go – so I hope that you will enjoy this musical perspective on Francis Poulenc. Enjoy listening!

      Hansjörg Albrecht

      Yaara Tal & Andreas Groethuysen

      The Israeli pianist Yaara Tal and her German partner Andreas Groethuysen are today acknowledged as one of the leading piano duos worldwide; they regularly give concerts together at all the famous venues and events, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the Philharmonie Berlin, Alte Oper Frankfurt, Musikhalle Hamburg, Hong Kong Arts Festival, the Philharmonie in Cologne, Gewandhaus Leipzig, Wigmore Hall London, Teatro alla Scala Milan, Philharmonie Munich, at the Frick Collection New York, the Teatro Massimo Palermo, Forbidden City Concert Hall Peking, the piano festival in La Roque d’Anthéron, the Ruhr Piano Festival, the Salzburg Festival, the Vienna Musikverein and the Tonhalle Zürich, to name but a few.

      One special hallmark of the duo – alongside a benchmark unity and spontaneity of playing – is the creativity of their programme planning to include and revive unjustly neglected gems of the repertoire together with the central works of the literature.

      One further element in the considerable international success of the Tal & Groethuysen Duo is their wide-ranging discography: together, the duo have recorded a whole series of works for four hands (many of them first-time recordings of works by the likes of Carl Czerny, Reinhard Febel, Theodore Gouvy, Charles Koechlin, Felix Mendelssohn, Max Reger, Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner), and they have already been awarded the coveted “German Music Critics’ Prize” eight times and the “Echo Klassik” prize four times as well as gaining a great international following among both audiences and critics. The main focus of their commercial recordings so far has been the first, highly acclaimed, seven-part recording of all of Franz Schubert’s works for four hands (which won the Cannes Classical Award in 1998) and the three-part recording of all of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s works for two pianos.


      Peter Kofler

      Born in Bolzano, the organist and harpsichordist Peter Kofler received his first music training at the Claudio Monteverdi conservatoire there. He studied organ and church music in Munich with Harald Feller and harpsichord with Christine Schornsheim.

      During his student days he was given a teaching post as rehearsal pianist at the College of Music and Drama in Munich and was made assistant to Hansjörg Albrecht at the Munich Bach Choir. Peter Kofler has performed with famous ensembles such as the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic, the Munich Bach Choir & Bach Collegium, Kremerata Baltica and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and has also worked with conductors like Mariss Jansons, Krzysztof Penderecki, Heinz Holliger and Peter Schreier. His chamber music partners include Christine Schornsheim, François Leleux and Ramón Ortega Quero. Peter Kofler regularly makes guest appearances at international music festivals as an organist and harpsichordist. CD and radio recordings round off his artistic activities. In 2007 Peter Kofler was invited to be the official harpsichord accompanist at the ARD Music Competition. The Bücher Dieckmeyer foundation presented him with the bursary for the promotion of church music in Bavaria. Peter Kofler is artistic director of the “Munich Autumn Organ Festival” and of the Klassikchor vocal ensemble in Munich. He has been organist at St Michael’s Jesuit and court church in Munich since August 2008.


      Babette Haag

      Munich-born Babette Haag began her study of percussion instruments in 1988 at the College of Music in Freiburg/Breisgau, and as a prizewinner at the German Music Competition she was included in the nationwide selection of “Concerts by young artists” which laid the foundation stone, in the 1992/93 season, for her solo career, with more than 40 solo performances all over Germany.

      Babette Haag has also been a member of the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie orchestra and the philharmonic orchestra at the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival. With the latter, which was renamed “Philharmonie der Nationen” in 1995, she was for seven years solo kettledrummer and leader of the percussion section under the direction of Justus Frantz on numerous concert tours in Germany and beyond, on CD recordings and in the German TV programme “Achtung! Klassik”. Since completing her studies in spring 1994, Babette Haag has been involved in all manner of different formations: in percussion recitals, concerts for marimba or percussion and orchestra, with the Pandora Percussion Ensemble or as a chamber-music partner to various ensembles including Duo Arparimba and Trio TriColore, with the piano duo Paratore, with Alexei Lubimov & Alexandre Rabinovich, with Klaus Maria Brandauer or Bobby McFerrin. Her performances have taken her to many countries in Europe and to the Baltic states, the USA, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua and the Sudan. She is a welcome guest at the big international music festivals and receives invitations from numerous symphony orchestras (Rheingau Music Festival, Ludwigsburg’s Schlossfestspiele, the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival, the Berlin Festwochen, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Frankfurt’s Museumsorchester, the Staatstheater in Oldenburg, the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra in Heilbronn, Musikcollegium Schaffhausen, the Polish Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonie of Thuringia and the Dresden Kapellsolisten).

      Babette Haag passes on her wealth of experience at home and abroad through many master classes, seminars and workshops, at places like the universities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the College of Music and Drama in Khartoum, the Braunschweig Classix Festival and at the College of Music in Dresden. Four CDs featuring Babette Haag are now available.


      Bach Collegium München

      The Bach Collegium Munich celebrated its thirtieth anniversary during the 2003/04 concert season. The orchestra has made an impressive name for itself not only in Germany but also thanks to concert tours abroad, and is in the top league of international orchestral ensembles. Solo violinist Florian Sonnleitner has been artistic director and leader of the orchestra since 1979. Over the years, the Bach Collegium of Munich has expanded its repertoire and reputation through regular and mutually beneficial collaborations with soloists and conductors of international standing, like András Adorján, Bruno Weil, Thomas Quasthoff, Peter Schreier and Wolfgang Sawallisch and with outstanding choirs like the Regensburg Cathedral Boys’ Choir (the famous “Domspatzen”), the Munich Bach Choir and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir from Vienna.

      Since the autumn of 2005 the Bach Collegium has been performing regularly in Germany and abroad together with the Munich Bach Choir under the new direction of Hansjörg Albrecht. This collaboration has been highly praised in numerous reviews in the music press and the close cooperation is being developed further. At the international “Settembre Musica” Festival in Turin in 2006 they performed Bach’s St Matthew Passion with great artistic success. This work was broadcast live by Bavarian Radio in April 2006 from the Munich Philharmonie venue and was again broadcast several times by Polish Radio and Television from St Brigitta’s church in Gdansk with the same performers in March 2007.

      The 2005/06 concert season saw collaborations with the internationally acclaimed pianist Cyprien Katsaris, the young cellist Johannes Moser and star conductor Anu Tali. In the same period, the Collegium, together with the Munich Bach Choir, recorded J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio under the baton of Peter Schreier on DVD. The reputation of the Munich Bach Collegium has earned the ensemble musical partnerships for radio and television recordings with the German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, and with Czech, Hungarian and Spanish TV stations. Bach’s St John and St Matthew Passions, performed with the choral society of Neubeuern and C.P.E. Bach’s Rendez-Vous Nocturne with Christopher Hogwood are just three of the highlights of those television recordings. Numerous CDs have been produced with the Collegium, and yet another new CD was released in November 2007 on the OehmsClassics label featuring J.S. Bach’s secular cantatas, an opera pastiche with the Munich Bach Choir and the Bach Collegium under Hansjörg Albrecht.

      In September 2009 the orchestra was invited, together with the Jacques Loussier Trio, to take part in the 19th International George Enescu Festival in Bucharest. In the course of the 2009/2010 season, the ensemble will perform, together with the Munich Bach Choir, works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Verdi and Enjott Schneider.


      Tracklist hide

      SACD 1
      • Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra FP 61 (1932)
        Version for two pianos, organ and percussion
        (Tal/Groethuysen – Albrecht – Haag)
        • Francis Poulenc (1899–1963)
          Concertos for Keyboard Instruments
          • 1.Allegro ma non troppo08:05
          • 2.Larghetto05:19
          • 3.Finale (Allegro molto)05:59
        • Concert champêtre for harpsichord and orchestra FP 49 (1927–28)
          Version for harpsichord, organ and percussion
          (Kofler – Albrecht – Haag)
          • 4.Allegro molto10:54
          • 5.Andante (mouvement de sicilienne)06:28
          • 6.Finale (Presto, très gai)08:31
          • 7.Concerto in G minor for organ, strings and timpani FP 93 (1938)
            (Albrecht – Bach Collegium)
          • Total:01:07:10