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Cat. No. CHAN 3134(2) Price: £18 No. of discs: 2
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CHAN 3134 - Poulenc: The Carmelites
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Available From: 01 September 2006
Poulenc did something deeply unfashionable in the mid-1950s when he wrote Dialogues of the Carmelites – in an era of modernism he created an opera that was dramatically coherent and musically intensely pleasurable. ‘It seems’, he wrote, ‘that my Carmelites can only sing tonal music. You must forgive them.’

This is a powerful work, an almost disturbing experience, as heroic opera should be, and a must for anyone who loves the genre. Poulenc’s score is incredibly complex and richly emotional, with audible elements of Mussorgsky, Debussy and Fauré.

This recording is taken from the critically acclaimed ENO staging. The Times wrote of the performances ‘Daniel was able brilliantly to capture the peace at the heart of the work and the final, absolute silence was mesmerising’.

Rupert Christiansen of The Daily Telegraph wrote ‘Paul Daniel’s conducting charged ENO’s orchestra to the best playing I have heard it give for years, particularly in its relish of the exquisite writing for the woodwind’.

Available at mid-price for the two CD-set, this is an electrifying recording of an inspired staging.

Josephine Barstow as the assistant prioress brought both a vocal and dramatic command to her role, as did Catrin Wyn-Davies to the central character, Blanche de la Force.
Online Review London

Catrin Wyn-Davies acted Blanche most affectingly, unfailingly catching the contrasting facets of the character.
Opera Magazine

Catrin Wyn-Davies acted Blanche most affectingly, unfailingly catching the contrasting facets of the character.
Opera Magazine

It is a marvellous ensemble performance, gut-wrenching at the end as the ‘chorus’ dwindles into a solo as each member perishes on the scaffold.
Sunday Times

Daniel captures the cumulative momentum of this series of dialogues within a community in the shadow of revolution. Felicity Palmer’s Old Prioress and Josephine Barstow’s characterful Mother Marie are here particularly strongly cast, with Orla Boylan as an eloquent Madame Lidoine. The young voices of Catrin Wyn-Davies and Sarah Tynan are nicely complementary as Blanche and Constance – and the recording makes good use of space and depth of field.
BBC Music Magazine

Paul Daniel paces it magnificently, building up inexorably to that heart-stopping final scene and moving the music along so that we, too, feel ourselves swept up in events over which we have no control, even when the ultimate tragedy is so inevitable. Daniel’s intense reading, the moments of silence every bit as telling as the most full-bloodied sounds, draws stunning orchestral playing from the English National opera musicians.
International Record Review

Paul Daniel conducts a strong lyrical performance, finding the secret of Poulenc’s delicate and always apposite orchestration. As Blanche, the novice whose nerve fails her, Catrin Wyn-Davies sings movingly throughout; her scene with Sarah Tynan’s adorable sister Constance is a touching highlight. Felicity Palmer’s powerful Old Prioress sends a chill down the spine, and Josephine Barstow gives a riveting portrayal of Mother Marie. The studio recording is clear and well up to this label’s high standards.
Sunday Telegraph

Josephine Barstow as the assistant prioress brought both a vocal and dramatic command to her role, as did Catrin Wyn-Davies to the central character, Blanche de la Force.
Online Review London

Just as the guillotined nuns derived collective strength from their shared suffering, so the individual qualities of a fine cast combine to create a truly powerful performance of Poulenc’s post-war psychological masterpiece. The characters, singing in English, range from felicity palmer’s ageing contralto Prioress howling at the horrors of a slow bed-ridden death to Sarah Tynan’s high soprano novice gleefully embracing the quick oblivion of the blade. Catrin Wyn-Davies’s Blanche tries occasionally but we feel her torment. Daniel conducts an incisive band, while the chorus sings a haunting Ave Verum.
The Times

Poulenc stated that his Dialogues should be performed in the language of the country, something rarely practiced today…Intelligibility is extraordinary…

There is a frission between the often statuesque music from the orchestra and the urgency – and musicality – with which Catrin Wyn-Davies’s Blanche and Josephine Barstow’s Mother Marie, in particular, articulate their lines as they face their tragic fate. The Old Prioress’s ‘bad death’ is vividly enacted by Felicity Palmer while, at the other end of the scale Sister Constance’s youthful innocence is tellingly portrayed by Sarah Tynan. The English text comes through with particular clarity, even across an orchestra that seems truly energised by Daniel’s conducting.
The Telegraph

Not that the ENO Orchestra needs flattering: the playing is exceptionally responsive to everything demanded of it by Poulenc, and the warm sound devised by Chandos’ Brian and Ralph Couzens emphasizes the similar warmth felt by the composer for his characters. He loved them for their strengths and for their frailties, and Paul Daniel, in what was surely on of his best undertakings at ENO, loves and understands them too. The moments of violence and pain are there, but this reading as a whole is one of lyricism, tenderness and compassion.

This studio recording based on a recent ENO production is worth buying for several of the performances alone: Felicity palmer is terrifyingly good as a Prioress dying in fear and agony, and Josephine Barstow and Orla Boylan are superb too. Paul Daniel’s conducting is also beautifully judged.
Classic FM Magazine

It’s conducted with implacable menace by Paul Daniel, and superbly played.. Catrin Wyn-Davies is an impressive Blanche, tellingly exposing the neuroses that lie behind the girl’s spirituality, while Josephine Barstow is truly terrifying as the near fundamentalist Mother Marie.
The Guardian

ENO’s recent production of Poulenc’s great tragedy (sung in English) was unforgettable in the theatre and makes compelling listening on disc: a showpiece of marvellous singing, with Cathryn Wyn-Davies’s Blanche, Josephine Barstow’s Mother Marie and Felicity Palmer’s Old Prioress leading a brilliant ensemble cast. Paul Daniels encourages rich-hued playing from the ENO orchestra.
The Telegraph ‘Discs of the Year’


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