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
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
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.