Jacqueline White with Clive Matthews

Concert date: 18 January 2013
Reviewed by: JRC

An evening of Poulenc's music is rare: at The Courtenay Centre we were treated to such an event plus glimpses of his life.

Poulenc lived through two World Wars, he was part of Parisian high-life and his music has great diversity. That diversity kept us on the edge of our seats: one just doesn't know what to expect next from Poulenc.

Clive Matthews played the instantly recognisable '3 Mouvements Perpetuel', responsible for launching Poulenc to fame. Later pieces showed great variety; the extremes were 'Nocturne 4' [Ghost dance] in which Clive demonstrated amazing ability to sustain pianissimo playing whilst carrying his audience with him; with 'Improvisation 8', we were jolted back into a very different reality, brilliant melodic phrases turning on a pin's head.

Jacqueline White sang Poulenc's 'Vocalise' : a privilege to hear this since there are no currently available recordings, even on YouTube. Other songs, many written in the early war years, were a roller-coaster of emotions including deep anguish in 'Dans l'herbe', light and fast drama of 'Il vole' and the strangely pensive 'Mon cadaver est doux comme un gant' ['My corpse is limp as a glove'], - no wonder it was strange! A later song cycle gave us huge contrasts of mood and style. For me, the 1943 song entitled 'C', with its heavy melancholy, was my favourite.

Clive gave us brilliant demonstrations of the sparkle and quirkiness of Poulenc, though I remain equally impressed with 'Improvisation 13' where I felt we were very close to Chopin, and 'Improvisation15', a homage to Edith Piaf, with a melody line recalling 'Autumn Leaves' and rhythmic chords inviting us to Regret Nothing. We left the Courtenay Centre having quite forgotten that the intended hired piano was still icebound in Bath. Another NADSA concert left us inspired and talking about music.