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Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
La Création du monde, Op.81a (1923) [16’49]
Le Boeuf sur le toit, Op.58 (1919) [16’31]
Suite provençale, Op.152d (1936) [15’14]
L’Homme et son désir, Op.48 (1921) [20’06]
Tomoko Makuuchi (soprano), Jian Zhao (mezzo)
Mathias Vidal (tenor), Bernard Deletré (bass)
Orchestre National de Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus
Recorded at the Auditorium du Nouveau Siècle, Lille, France, 15-18 July, 2003
NAXOS 8.557287 [68’40]



Here we have a nicely balanced all-Milhaud programme from Naxos that puts his two most famous works against some less familiar fare. Casadesus has been doing some good things for the company and he obviously relishes letting his hair down here, his players enjoying themselves equally.

Of course, the competition in the two well known pieces is pretty stiff, but generally there is a great deal to enjoy here. Le Boeuf sur le toit was written for Jean Cocteau in 1919 and set in an American bar during Prohibition, and there is an infectious sense of fun in Casadesus’ handling of the bi-tonal themes and Latin-style rhythms that instantly has the foot tapping. I don’t get quite the sense of out and out exuberance I used to get in Bernstein’s EMI version with the Paris Orchestra, but there is a Gallic charm and sophistication at work here that is utterly engaging.

La Création du Monde comes from four years later and is acknowledged as one of the first true fusions of jazz, blues and classical. It’s an inspired piece and has received some inspired performances, but Casadesus gives good value. He is very measured in the evocative opening, letting the blowsy saxophone solo slither its way through the texture. This slow pulse does allow for plenty of atmosphere (though the close recording doesn’t help him) and makes for greater contrast when the jazz fugue breaks in at 4’25. Michael Tilson-Thomas (RCA) gets even greater contrast here, mainly by spikier rhythms and allowing the young players of his excellent New World Symphony a little more expressive freedom. But Casadesus is very satisfying, bringing out the allusions to Soldier’s Tale (8’56) and building to a darkly sensual mating dance finale.

The other items were new to me but are typically attractive Milhaud inspirations. There is plenty of Stravinskyan polytonality and rhythmic intricacy in L’Homme et son désir, a Nijinsky-inspired symbolist ballet. This imaginatively orchestrated suite, which includes four wordless singers, is worth getting to know, as is the Suite provençale, drawn from music for a 1936 play and using a variety of old Provençale melodies. I particularly like the final vif section, a fife-and-drum idea that is then taken up by the full orchestra in a vigorous rondo.

As mentioned, the recording is a touch close, but has plenty of warmth and detail. Notes are good, and the whole disc can be warmly welcomed.

Tony Haywood





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