Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Poulenc: Aubade, concerto choregraphique for piano and 18 instruments

Youtube has four very decent recordings of this piece (possibly more, but these were my highlights)
Claire-Marie Le Guay with Christophe Mangou and the Orchestre Nationale d'lle de France. I like this one because aside from being very well executed, it's a video and you can see (sort of) the unusual instrumentation and the configuration, which is one that Poulenc includes himself in the score of the piece.
Sviatoslav Richter
Pascal Roge
Jacques Fevrier

I. Toccata (Lento e pesante - Molto animato)
II. Récitatif: Les compagnes de Diane (Larghetto)
III. Rondeau (Allegro) - Entrée de Diane (Piu mosso)
IV. Toilette de Diane (Presto)
V. Récitatif: Introduction à la Variation de Diane (Larghetto)
VI. Andante: Variation de Diane (Andante con moto - Animer - Emporté)
VII. Allegro feroce: Désespoir de Diane
VIII. Conclusion: Adieux et depart de Diane (Adagio - Più mosso)

Poulenc's 1929 Aubade was written for and financed by the Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Noailles, the latter of who was one of 20th-century Paris's most forward-thinking and visible arts patrons. Its unusual instrumentation - it is one of a fairly exclusive group of orchestral concert pieces that does not include violins - is a result of the ensemble that was budgeted for the fete given the evening of the premiere at the Noailles' mansion on June 18th, 1929.
Poulenc was a master of compositional balance, toeing the line between levity and depth, clarity and richness. This piece, now known more or less as Poulenc's first piano concerto, was originally conceived as ballet music and was premiered with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska (George Balanchine choreographed the public premiere some months later). It chronicles the story of the Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt and of chastity. The action of the ballet depicts her anguished struggle with her fate-decreed bonds of abstinence; its name refers to a Middle Age piece played or sung outdoors at dawn, and references the fact that the plot here begins at daybreak and ends at dawn one day later. While the Aubade has since become exclusively a concert piece - in fact, Poulenc cautions performers and audiences not to overcredit the programmatic aspect of this piece - it is still evident that Diana's plight of solitude informs the character and emotional shape of this piece.
The Aubade opens with a stark brass fanfare, and the first of the eight short segments (which are performed without pause) consists mostly of a frenzied solo piano cadenza channeling Diana's distress and loneliness, at odds with her eternal chastity. The orchestra's reentrance signals the awakening of Diana's companions, and the music is at first grim and foreboding but then slides into a graceful rondo, with the piano stating each subject and theme before ceding it to the orchestra. Diana's entrance at the Piu mosso is marked by a brightening of timbres and quickening of pace. The third segment, marked Presto, is a merry, quick and lively depiction of the companions as they dress Diana for her day, and its pert ending marks the conclusion of the first half of the piece.
The following Recitatif is more solemn, beginning with dissonant flourishes from the bassoons and oboes, and marked by firm dotted rhythms. Diana is handed a hunting bow, upon which she proceeds to dance alone in a lovely but resigned Andante introduced by solo clarinet and flute. The end of this dance is marked by a pale oscillation in the flutes, a foreshadowing of the ending. The penultimate movement, Diana's despair, is a furious and fierce outburst. It is over as suddenly as it began, however, and in the end succumbs to bleakness and loneliness. The clarinets give a flurry of protest, but in the end, a lonely solo cello line leads us to the austere coda, which features a stern brass statement overlain by a seemingly neverending series of A-minor oscillations in the upper winds and solo piano. Eventually these, too, recede into the unelaborate ending of a single low A piano strike.

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