Poulenc concerto performance with the New Bedford Symphony in review

published in The Standard-Times (New Bedford):

French composer Francis Poulenc's Concerto Champetre (Country Concerto) for Harpsichord, is a rarely performed work and an absolute delight. A balanced collaboration between a harpsichord (lightly amplified) and a full modern orchestra, this concerto is witty, elegant and well-crafted, with echoes of Couperin and J.S. Bach comfortably sharing the stage with tunes derived from cabarets and circus tunes. Poulenc, whose mission was to return French music to its roots, was a member of Les Six. Along with Darius Milhaud and others, he championed less formal music and admired Dadaists Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie and the unpretentious, forthrightly seductive Sprechgesang (recitative) style of singer Maurice Chevalier.

Poulenc's harpsichord concerto, brilliantly played by Paul Cienniwa, wearing a frock coat, soft cravat and shirt with a stiff pointed collar, is a charming, humorous and beautiful piece of music. It begins with a solemn and authoritative entrance by the French horn, stern brasses and a tympani, against which the harpsichord, undaunted, introduces a playful, delicate theme in major and minor keys and cadenza-like jeux d'esprit, first in a sinuous oriental style, then with a martial beat.

The Andante evokes a typical French summer outdoor dance accompanied by good food and flowing wine as the harpsichord and orchestra assume a dance-like dialogue. In the third movement, Presto, the harpsichord pays homage to the sparkling inventions of J.S. Bach, and as the movement draws to an end, the soloist lifts his hands and plays two chords that mimic a pianist's approach to a romantic cadenza, but after two strong chords, the harpsichord falls silent, as if meditating on the unheard music of the spheres. Cienniwa's playing was exquisite — no drama, no posturing — just consummate artistry and a superb performance of a marvelous concerto.

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