To issue a CD of Poulenc's most important choral work is to make a huge statement, and to take something of a risk. Why does one do it? Aren't there enough recordings already?
Having said that, in my case it's simply dire necessity. This work is so beautiful, so impressive, and so important to the canon of twentieth-century choral music, that I cannot resist having a say of my own. I do believe that Poulenc´s 12-part Figure humaine is the most beautiful and impressive a cappella choral work that I know. The poet Eluard and composer Poulenc formed a perfect match. Eluard's poignant and sinister surrealistic texts are very moving, and their wonderfully expressive language depicts the horrors of the Second World War. It is without doubt a harrowing work, with a pièce de résistance to end: the eighth and final movement Liberté. In the most beautiful words, it expresses the omnipresent urge for liberty. Poulenc's setting is simply wonderful, with a gigantic buildup to the concluding, ultimate cry of LIBERTÉ!
It is a great joy to perform this sort of music with my Swedish Radio Choir. The ensemble is a very strong group, and most eager to stretch its boundaries. The strength of the group is not merely the sum of its individual qualities. At the moment when these qualities merge into one, the group develops still further, and the ensemble attains a higher elevation. However important blending of the sound may be, it may not be at the expense of individual colour and personality. Choirs are frequently recorded from a considerable distance, perhaps to improve the blend. I often find the resulting sound to be distant, and detrimental to the clarity of the text. The recording technique of Channel Classics seeks to establish a synthesis, combining directness and clarity with spatial effect. This is exactly my own approach to choral timbre: the choir must achieve the greatest unity and blend, but also allow space for individual colour. It is at such moments that the listener feels personally involved, and the music gains a human aspect. I am convinced that this is the sound Poulenc had in mind when he wrote Figure humaine.