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Adolphe BLANC (1828-1885)
Septet for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass op. 40 [28:56]
Trio for piano, clarinet and cello op. 23 [22:43]
Quintet for piano, flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon op. 37 [21:24]
Les Vents de Montréal/André Moisan
rec. 10-11 Mar 2000, 3-4 May 2001, Eglise St Augustin de Mirabel, Salle Pierre-Mercure, Québec, Canada. DDD
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD2 2224 [73:20]

It is understandable though regrettable that Blanc's music has disappeared under the grand production of his Francophone contemporaries: Franck, Saint-Saëns and Fauré. No disservice is intended to Blanc's name or to his champions.

Born in Manosque in France's Basses-Alpes region, Blanc came from an affluent background. As a teenager he studied music in Paris with the operatic composer Halévy. Had he embraced opera for which at that time France had a seemingly unappeasable appetite he might have made more of an enduring mark. As it was he focused on chamber music. There are songs, pieces for piano and violin, choral works and some orchestral works. There's also a burlesque symphony for string quartet and various children's instruments. He was conductor at Paris's Théâtre Lyrique between 1855 and 1860 when Gounod's operas held centre-stage.

What of the music? It is highly accomplished and well wrought. It pleases the ear and each instrument contributes tellingly. Listening to the Septet one is struck, especially in the first two movements, by the golden Mozartean manner. It is only ‘modern’ in that its melodies suggest those of Gallic lyric opera of the era. There is a bubbling tarantella taken at headlong pace by André Moisan's ensemble. The finale takes off in another direction altogether with Vivaldian violin solos until at 3:24 Blanc bids us an effervescently light-hearted farewell.

The Trio Op. 23 begins enchantingly with a breathing motif like a distant and peaceable shadow of the opening of the Waldstein sonata before returning to classical serenity. Blanc then moves to a whimsical Haydnesque scherzo before concluding with some slippery and humorous virtuosity for clarinet and piano.

The Quintet suggests early Beethoven at first but this only prepares the way for a contrasting lyrical cantilena at 2.00 onwards. A merry-eyed scherzo, cassation-like, gives way again to Beethovenian sobriety. Tragic overtones are carried by the bassoon but all ends in affable effervescence.

Be warned there is some key noise from the clarinet but the sound of the impacts has a dulled 'sticky' quality - nothing too clattery.

A decently documented issue even if the music is more a curiosity than a desperately compelling addition to the repertoire.

Rob Barnett



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