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French Music for Woodwind Quintet
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

Sextet for piano and wind quintet (1932) [18:40]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)

Trois pièces brèves (1930) [6:57]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)

La Cheminée du roi René, op. 205 (1930) [12:49]
Jean FRANCAIX (1912-1997)

Wind Quintet No. 1 (1948) [20:27]
The Wind Quintet of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra: Anna Dina Schick, flute; Max Artved, oboe; Søren Elbo, clarinet; Henning Due Hansen, horn; Jens Tofte-Hansen, bassoon; Ralf Gothóni, piano (Poulenc)
rec. Studio 1 Radio House, Copenhagen, 3-4 January; 5-7, 9 March 2001.
NAXOS 8.557356 [58:53]

 

The ability of the French to write felicitously for wind instruments can perhaps be traced to Anton Reicha’s days at the Paris Conservatoire and his numerous works for winds. In later years, the composers of Les Six and their wide and widely gifted circle came to prefer the wind quintet - with its interpolated guest from the brass section - to the more dense doublings of sextets and octets.

My own personal fondness for the music of these composers and their contemporaries is certainly by now no secret to regular readers of these virtual pages. Rarely does so much good music come from so substantial a group of composers from so relatively small a region. The four utterly charming works presented here are no different, and the Danes’ playing is as near to flawless as anything that has graced these ears in some time.

Opening with Poulenc’s 1932 Sextet - with deepest thanks to the excellent piano playing of Ralf Gothóni - we are off to a rollicking start. It is quite easy to put oneself in Gershwin’s shoes when hearing this music. The bustling sounds of Paris, with its lively and tuneful music and legions of interesting people are evident in Poulenc’s score and if you listen hard enough, the inspiration for An American in Paris is well evident. Cast in three movements, it opens with a flourish, segues into a lovely repose and romps out of its first movement with panache. There follows a charming divertissement, and we roll out with an impressive prestissimo.

Jacques Ibert’s tuneful miniatures are over before you know it, but what splendid music this is. Less jazzy than Poulenc, Ibert is a more picturesque composer whose music conjures up scenes of landscapes, cloudy skies and tender moments with a loved one.

Darius Milhaud was one of the twentieth century’s most prolific composers, leaving behind well over four hundred works. His scenic La Cheminée du roi René was originally conceived as film music, but works quite well as a concert piece. Each brief movement tells a bit of the life and adventures of the fifteenth-century King René, count of Provence and titular king of Naples. The king is most fondly remembered for introducing the muscatel grape to the region.

Finally, Jean Francaix, the youngest composer of the group takes a turn with a substantial four-movement work, which is a good deal more tuneful that what I had originally expected to hear.

The Danish Symphony Quintet, made up of principal players from the Danish National Orchestra make for quite a force of nature when seated together to play chamber music. Each member a virtuoso in his or her own right, their ensemble playing is born out of being accustomed to orchestral collaboration, and impeccable solo technique. They play with breathtaking ease, and the cantabile that they are able to achieve in slower more melodic passages is to die for. Rhythmically taut, perfect in intonation, and quite capable of displays of pyrotechnics, one can only hope that Naxos has signed this group to a long contract, and that many more discs are to follow.

This is a program of most refreshing and light-hearted music that is deserving of a place on any collector’s shelf. Keith Anderson contributes his customarily succinct and informative program essay, and the sound quality is of the first order, warm and balanced and clear.

A highly recommendable release. A fine breath of fresh air.

Kevin Sutton

 



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