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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon FP 100 (1932/39) [17:03]
Trio for piano, oboe and bassoon FP 43 (1926) [11:31]
Jean FRANCAIX (1912-1997)

Octet for clarinet, horn, bassoon, string quartet and double-bass (1972) [21:05]
Decet for wind quintet, string quartet and double-bass (1986) [17:00]
Linos Ensemble: Winfried Rademacher (violin); Sidsel Garm Nielsen (violin); Matthias Buchholz (viola); Mario Blaumer (cello); Jörg Linowitzki (double-bass); Anna Garzuly (flute); Klaus Becker (oboe); Rainer Müller-van Recum (clarinet); Paul van Zelm (horn); Eberhard Marschall (bassoon); Konstanze Eickhorst (piano)
rec. 27-31 March 2006, Deutschlandradio, Sendesaal, Cologne
CAPRICCIO 67191 [66:39]

As a member of Les Six, that celebrated group of musicians who coalesced around Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie in the 1920s, Poulenc was no stranger to the subversive. He may not have been as outrageous as Satie, with his flabby preludes and desiccated embryos, but many of his works are firmly rooted in the Parisian street culture of the time. It’s a distinctive mix of intellectual rigour and popular tunes that Jean Francaix, 13 years his senior, acknowledged in his own artistic credo of ‘Musique pour faire plaisir’ (music for pleasure). Thankfully this attractive selection ticks all the right boxes.

The Linos Ensemble – formed in 1977 and made up of players from Germany’s top universities and orchestras – get the disc off to a flying start with Poulenc’s jaunty Sextet. The grandiose opening and silent-movie-style antics show that even in the 1930s his parodic streak is still very much intact. His skill in writing for woodwinds is clear from the outset, especially in the elegiac passages that follow. The writing has a melancholy air, a jazzy languor, and the Linos Ensemble – believably placed in a close but reasonably warm acoustic – capture that mood to perfection.

The Divertissement has an outwardly ‘serious’ start but like a child who can’t resist a giggle in church Poulenc punctures the prevailing pomposity with cheeky interjections before allowing the players to reprise the opening bars. Even then the movement ends with a strange, skeletal little flourish before the ensemble charges into the hyperactive Finale. There is some lovely, secure playing from the woodwinds and Konstanze Eickhorst’s attentive piano playing is both elegant and deliciously irreverent by turns.

Given Poulenc’s demonstrable skill in writing for woodwinds it is not surprising that his Trio is scored for piano, oboe and bassoon rather than the more usual piano, violin and cello. As the booklet points out Poulenc wasn’t breaking new ground here; his compatriot Henri Brod (1799-1838) wrote no less than 14 works for this combination and Francaix confirmed this as a distinctly French tradition with his 1994 trio for the same forces.

It is also no surprise that this 1926 piece has more than a hint of Satie in its opening bars, with something of the slapstick of Parade and Relâche to follow. After a more formal Andante Poulenc switches back to Keystone Kops mode with some rollicking tunes in the Rondo. There is some very deft playing from bassoonist Eberhard Marschall and oboist Klaus Becker, who really do find the Gallic humour in the writing without ever losing sight of its overall structure. It is the kind of bravura playing that illuminates rather than dominates and is always a pleasure to hear.

Jean Francaix’s Octet is modelled on Schubert’s in F major D. 803 (1824). It is cast in four movements instead of six and includes that most Viennese of dances, the waltz. As far as the writing is concerned one is immediately struck by Francaix’s more integrated instrumental approach, with a strong string presence. There is plenty of classical restraint but that doesn’t preclude the odd flashes of wit and humour. The Moderato – Allegrissimo and Scherzo elicit some virtuoso playing from both woodwind and strings but the idiom is altogether more formal, more rigorous, and in that sense this is less engaging and open than the Poulenc pieces.

But there is certainly much plaisir to be had here, in spite of the music’s more opaque patches. The Andante is measured but there are some lovely sonorities to savour. The concluding waltz is more Second Viennese than First in its initial jaggedness, although Francaix does display something of Poulenc’s penchant for parody later on.

The Decet, commissioned and premiered by the Linos Ensemble in 1987, inhabits much the same sound world as the earlier work, but sounds even more assured. The opening Larghetto tranquillo is surprisingly transparent, given the forces employed, with some crisp pizzicato playing from the lower strings. There is an inner energy to the music that is most appealing and the Schubertian Andante is a real delight. Again one marvels at the economy of Francaix’s writing, not to mention the Janus-faced nature of this music as it swings into the Scherzando, with its tipsy woodwind whoops

and slides, and the sprightly Allegro moderato.

This is a thoroughly engaging disc of very worthwhile music, all superbly recorded. The Linos Ensemble – with more than 80 works in their repertoire – certainly play with considerable sympathy and flair while maintaining a wonderful sense of integration throughout. The booklet notes are adequate but there is no information about the players, which is a shame. A small quibble, really, and no bar to the abundant rewards this disc has to offer.

Dan Morgan


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