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Poulenc: La Voix Humaine

Poulenc: La Voix Humaine

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Véronique Gens’s version of La Voix humaine has been eagerly awaited! This ‘lyric tragedy in one act’ might have been written for her, so ideally suited are her feeling for language and her dramatic intensity to Poulenc’s monologue on a text by Jean Cocteau, composed in 1958. This is a far cry from the ‘light’ Poulenc of the 1920s. Cocteau paid him the highest compliment: ‘Dear Francis, you have fixed, once and for all, the way to speak my text.’ Véronique Gens confesses that she had always wanted to perform and record this piece; now she has achieved her ambition, in close partnership with the Orchestre National de Lille under its music director Alexandre Bloch. Also featured on the album is the Sinfonietta: this is in fact a genuine symphony, but, as Nicolas Southon writes, ‘there is no denying that the work – commissioned by the BBC in 1947 – has a freshness and a freedom of tone that justify its title’.


La voix humaine is a monodrama. Gens had long wished to sing and record the piece, and was asked to perform it many times. She waited till she was ready for such a demanding piece, a work she must carry for forty minutes of, at times, very intense solo singing. Poulenc’s favourite soprano Denise Duval performed it first. She almost co-composed the piece.

It is clear that Madame Gens has really thought through the work and what it requires. Her decision to wait to be certain before she was ready to tackle this piece would seem to have paid off handsomely. This is an outstanding interpretation, the right artist recording the right work at the right time. That top C is nailed alright, and at the few other moments of “real singing” her familiar sound and line are as eloquent as usual. But the rest, the ‘heightened talking’, is equally persuasive, realistic and moving. Of course, that realism is also distressing, as we eavesdrop on deep personal anguish. At one point, Elle confesses to a suicide attempt. Some listeners will surely find the work rather harrowing, not one for everyday listening. But if one of the duties of art is to portray life in all its grimness as well as all its glory, then La voix humaine should be heard.

-- MusicWeb International

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label:
    • UPC/Barcode: 3760014198991
    • Item Number: ALPHA899