Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Complete Chamber Music, volume 5
The Story of Babar, the little elephant (in French)
L'Invitation au Château - incidental music
Léocadia - incidental music
The Story of Babar, the little elephant (in English)
Alexandre Tharaud (piano) and others
Recordings made between October 1995 and October 1997
Naxos 8.553615   [73:37]

If, like me, you are addicted to the uniquely marvellous musical world of Francis Poulenc, you should rush out at once and purchase this delightful disc. Before hearing the disc I was puzzled by the inclusion of two versions of The Story of Babar, but in the event the comparison between the two proved fascinating. In the French version, the narrator is 12-year-old François Mouzaya. He is more forceful than the more laid-back Natasha Emerson (aged 13) in the English version, but both approaches work well (interestingly, the English version takes slightly longer than the French). No twentieth century composer wrote more ingratiating piano music than did Poulenc, and Alexandre Tharaud explores it with great relish and style.

He also excels in the two suites of incidental music, here recorded for the first time. Poulenc wrote much music for the theatre and the fantastic, not to say absurd, plots of L'Invitation au Château and Léocadia, two plays by Jean Anouilh dating from the 1940, were ideally suited to the composer's blend of mischief and melancholy. L'Invitation is scored for piano, violin and clarinet; in Léocadia these instruments are joined by bassoon and double bass and, in one number, the voice of Danielle Darrieux. Most of the pieces are brief, sparkling miniatures (some timed in seconds rather than minutes). Most memorable is the richly varied selection of waltzes, beside which Johann Strauss comes over as a veritable carthorse. And only Poulenc could have made so much of his tiny and, especially in Léocadia, unusual combination of instruments.

Though the piano sound is a rather forward for my taste, I cannot recommend this disc too highly.

Adrian Smith



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