Joining Poulenc's Gloria (Jesús López-Cobos) and Saint-Saëns' Mass for Four Voices (Donald Hunt) is the first CD release of Poulenc's Four Christmas Motets (Simon Preston).
Camille Saint-Saëns was only 21 years of age when he wrote his Mass Op.4, but the craftsmanship of both its vocal and instrumental writing, testifies to the accomplishment of an experienced composer at a tender age: as a prodigious student at the Paris Conservatoire he was awarded a first prize in organ at just sixteen years old, when he began to take composition seriously. The four vocal parts of this Mass are balanced against the exciting combination of two organs (large and small) offered by the disposition of many French Gothic cathedrals. Liszt claimed that the work was the most striking of any contemporary works in this genre, both for its religious character and for its technical mastery. The recording reissued here was made for Decca in February 1978 by the Choir of Worcester Cathedral under their long-standing organist and choirmaster, Donald Hunt.
Among French composers of the following generation, Francis Poulenc was unusual in combining an irreverent attitude towards musical tradition and authority with a Catholic faith much deeper and more sincere than that of Saint-Saëns: 'half monk, half thug', as the critic Claude Rostand once remarked of Poulenc. This bore fruit in several liturgical collections including four motets for Christmas-tide, recorded in April 1973 by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, during Simon Preston's tenure as their Music Director. The original coupling on the Argo LP was Stravinsky's Mass, which has also been reissued recently by Eloquence (ELQ4828099).
The joyful, festive theme of this unique compilation is continued by the Gloria which Poulenc wrote late in life. This is a digital recording from 1982, made in the classic Decca venue of Victoria Hall, Geneva, home to the Orchestra of the Suisse Romande which had recorded so many unrivalled accounts of French music under Ernest Ansermet. Here they are conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos, who had already begun an enduring relationship with Swiss ensembles which would bear fruit from 1990 in a decade-long leadership of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra.
'The choir acquits itself very well ? Argo has coped with the unfamiliar locale in spectacular fashion, capturing the organ in all its glory, yet balancing it nicely with the sound of the choir ? Not to be overlooked.' Fanfare, May/June 1980 (Saint-Saëns)'It has the special French bonus of parts for grand and petit orgue (here splendidly played by Roy Massey and Paul Trepte) which add colour and interest to what is already a vivid performance.' Musical Times, March 1979 (Saint-Saëns)
'Poulenc's Gloria receives an idiomatic performance that rivals the best the piece has received.' Fanfare, May/June 1983