How did you first come across Poulenc, and what was your immediate reaction to his sound world?
As a clarinettist at school I used to play his Sonata – hard! A mate of mine played the bassoon and we loved playing his duet for clarinet and bassoon. Also, I used to try and sing his songs. When I was a student I was fascinated by his opera, Dialogue of the Carmelitesbut I also loved his orchestral pieces which of course were full of Parisian wit. But I didn’t really come across his sacred works until I was about 20. Singing those motets for the first time was scary – they are so hard.
Where do you think Poulenc’s religious works sit within his genius?
Right at the top. And I think Poulenc felt the same.
The critic Claude Rostande famously described Poulenc as “moitié moine, moitié voyou” (half-monk, half-rascal). Are the sacred works all monk, or does the rascal ever creep in?
They are so personal and you wonder sometimes “what is he thinking?” I sort of interpret the “rascal” element as simply going against form. So whereas in...