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SIG 197
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SIG 197
Figure Humaine

Choral Works by Francis Poulenc

The Classical Shop
release date: June 2010


Nigel Short

Natalie Clifton-Griffith




St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, London


Adrian Peacock


Andrew Mellor

Alex Foster


Record Label



Total Time - 63:31
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Figure Humaine

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Mass in G

1 Kyrie 3:25
2 Gloria 4:09
3 Sanctus 2:26
4 Benedictus 3:46
5 Agnus Dei 4:56
 Natalie Clifton-Griffith soprano

Litanies a la Vierge Noire


Salve Regina


Un Soir de Neige

8 De grandes cuillers de neige 1:09
9 La bonne neige le ciel noir 1:37
10 Bois meurtri 2:12
11 La nuit le froid la solitude 1:05

Figure Humaine

12 I Bientot 2:45
13 II Le Role des Femmes 2:05
14 III Aussi bas que le silence 1:34
15 IV Patience 1:58
16 V Premiere Marche la voix d'un autre 1:00
17 VI Un Loup 1:42
18 VII Un feu sans tache 3:49
19 VIII Liberte 4:30

Quatre petites prieres de Saint Francois d'Assise

20 Salut, Dame Sainte 2:10
21 Tout Puissant 1:15
22 Seigneur, je vous en prie 1:21
23 O mes tres chers freres 1:55

Francis Poulenc is now considered to be among the most important composers of choral music of the 20th Century. Yet his early career reveals no trace of the dazzling and idiosyncratic unaccompanied choral textures so abundantly produced in the second half of his life.

This new collection of Poulenc’s choral works is centered on his masterwork, the Figure Humaine. Even though it is only 20 minutes in length, the work is a supreme test of stamina, technical agility, range, aural skill and musicianship. The professional chamber choir Tenebrae (directed by former King’s Singer Nigel Short) are more than capable of tackling this repertoire, and this disc promises to provide a new benchmark in interpretations of the work.


"Poulenc rediscovered the Roman Catholicism of his childhood when a close friend was killed in a road accident in 1936. A pilgrimage to Rocamadour in the Pyrenees led to his composing the Litanies á la Vierge Noire and other choral works. The masterpiece here is the double-choir Figure Humaine, a wartime setting of poems by Paul Eluard that culminates in a great cry of ‘Liberte’; but the other pieces, too, are all marvellous. It’s hard to imagine them being done better: Tenebrae’s tone, balance and intonation are superb. All but one are unaccompanied - the organist in the Litanies should have been credited."

Richard Lawrence

Classic FM Magazine - September 2010

                                  Choral & Song Choice

"...Tenebrae is equal to every challenge. The tuning is impeccable, the phrasing intelligent and never forced, the balance always adjusted to the demands of Poulenc’s textures, which are frequently not as straightforward as they look on the page. Not least, the sopranos float ethereally in the more lyrical moments - we know from Poulenc’s letters over the Gloria that he did not want beefy vibratos, let alone the sort of noises described by Faunré as emanating from ’old she-goats who have never known love’. The demanding top E at the end of Figure humaine crowns the work as it should.

One of the things that comes over from these superb performances is a sense of fragility: in the midst of life we are in death. Partly this is due to the group’s wide dynamic range (in absolute accord with Poulenc’s scores) which accentuates the music’s unpredictability mentioned above: in the Litanies a la Vierge noire, quasi-plainsong supplication is suddenly shredded by searing dissonances. A disc to be treasured."

Roger Nichols

BBC Music Magazine

“For purity and precision of tone, and flawless intonation, Nigel Short’s chamber choir Tenebrae is pretty much unbeatable.”


The Times

                       ’Critics Choice’

“It’s a fabulous disc, I can’t stop listening to it at the moment; it’s practically cemented itself to my CD player – it’s beautiful.”

Jeremy Summerly

BBC Radio 3 - CD Review

"... Poulenc’s wartime hymn to  liberty, all performed with colour and skill by Tenebrae."   ****


Geoffrey Norris

The Telegraph - 18 June 2010

"The survey of Poulenc’s choral works by Nigel Short and his superb 33-voice choir is inevitably dominated by one work: Figure Humaine ... It’s not only one of Poulenc’s greatest achievements, but  one of the 20th century’s most extraordinary pieces, with its waves of voices climaxing in the great shouts of Liberte in the closing moments, which Tenebrae control quite beautifully."  ****

Andrew Clements

The Guardian - 4 June 2010

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