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French Wind Quintets
Paul TAFFANEL (1844-1908)

Wind Quintet in G minor (c. 1900) [21.46]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)

La Cheminée du Roi René, Suite for Wind Quintet, Op. 205 (1939) [11.24]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)

Trois pièces brèves, for Wind Quintet (1930) [06.51]
Jean FRANCAIX (1912-1997)

Wind Quintet No. 1 (1948) [19.24]
Afflatus Quintet: Roman Novotny, flute; Jana Brozkova, oboe; Vojtech Nydl, clarinet; Radek Baborak, French horn; Ondrej Roskovec, bassoon
rec. 6-8 April 1999, Korunni Studio Prague, Prague, Czech Republic. DDD
SUPRAPHON SU 3579-2 131 [59.45]

 

I adore Milhaud’s Suite for Wind Quintet, La Cheminée du Roi’, especially the concluding piece ‘Madrigal - Nocturne’, which I first heard as the signature tune that introduces most BBC Radio 3 ‘Through the Night’ broadcasts. The account of ‘Madrigal - Nocturne’ that they use in ‘Through the Night’ has been specially recorded by members of the BBC Concert Orchestra; outstandingly performed but not commercially available. I have been searching for a high quality account of the ‘Madrigal - Nocturne’ for some time and have been left disappointed on several occasions. With this superb performance from the Afflatus Quintet on Supraphon I have now found what I have been looking for. In addition to the Milhaud score this valuable release also contains works for wind quintet by his compatriots; Taffanel, Ibert and Françaix.

Paul Taffanel is remembered primarily for having been a splendid flute virtuoso, teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, and as a founder of the French school of wind playing. Taffanel is lesser known as a composer, whose oeuvre includes brilliant pieces for solo flute but also a number of fine chamber works. His creative powers are displayed to great effect in this quintet, a three movement work with expansive outer movements either side of a cantabile slow movement.

Milhaud, a member of Les Six, became one of the most prolific and versatile composers of the 20th century. He produced his very best works immediately preceding the Second World War, prior to his emigration to the USA in 1940. They include La Cheminée du Roi René, originally composed for a film entitled ‘Cavalcade of Love’. The quintet is in the form of seven short movements that includes a scene representing jugglers to a scene depicting games being played by a Provençal river.

Ibert studied under Paul Vidal at the Paris Conservatoire and won the Prix de Rome in 1919 for his cantata, Le poète et la fée. His music is considered ‘light’, often witty, colourfully orchestrated with attractive melodies. Although he was not a member of Les Six he shares some characteristics with that of the group. His chamber music is not numerous, although his score Three Short Pieces for Wind Quintet, composed in 1930, has achieved world renown and become a concert standard. Designed in three movements, the two outer pieces are virtuosic making great technical demands. An effective contrast is provided by a short Andante.

Françaix was a neo-classical composer, pianist and orchestrator, known for his prolific output and vibrant style. His compositional approach is marked by lightness and wit, as well as a conversational style of interplay between the musical lines. He wrote his first Wind Quintet in 1948 which he dedicated to the Orchestre National de Paris Wind Quintet. The four movement work an ambitious score of symphonic dimensions making extensive use of modern virtuoso techniques. Françaix wrote a second Wind Quintet some forty years later.

This Supraphon release is Afflatus Quintet’s debut CD. They were founded in 1994 and perform in the Czech wind school tradition. All the members are players from leading European symphony orchestras; flautist Roman Novotny and bassoonist Ondrej Roskovec play with the Czech Philharmonic, oboist Jana Brozkova plays with the Czech Radio Symphony, clarinettist Vojtech Nydl plays with the Prague Philharmonia and French horn player Radek Baborak is a member of the Munich Philharmonic. They achieved their greatest success in September 1997 when they won the prestigious international ARD competition in Munich.

Experience has shown that Slavic woodwind players often have a special quality to their playing, which is certainly the case on this recording. Afflatus are highly suited to these French wind quintets and prove themselves a first-class ensemble, giving secure and alert readings. They provide performances of great freshness and vitality, with a strong sense of spontaneity, akin to a live recital. Their chosen speeds tend to be on the swift side, avoiding the temptation to linger, especially in the slower sections. These are superb interpretations that engage the listener from first bar to last.

In Taffanel’s Wind Quintet I enjoyed the lusty and exhilarating outer movements combined with a joyful and carefree Andante. Afflatus are masterful in La Cheminée, engaging and feisty in the stately dance of the Cortège and in La Maousinglade their playing is fresh and sparkling. I especially took to their gloriously seductive and vibrant interpretation of the final movement Madrigal - Nocturne, where the tempos seem instinctively right.

In the Ibert we are offered witty and spirited playing in the outer movements and a stylish and engaging performance of the central Andante. In the Françaix they are confident throughout. Their interpretation of the opening movement is playful and energetic, crammed with humour. The lively Scherzo is vivacious and spirited with controlled relaxation in the trio section, and magical and seductive playing in the extended slow movement. Bringing the score and the recording to an exciting conclusion I especially enjoyed the brilliant and explosive interpretation of the Finale.

This Supraphon release has the benefit of well balanced sound. The recording is on the bright side with slight blaring from the horn in forte passages and some may find Brozkova’s reedy-sounding oboe unattractive. Any minor reservations over the sound are completely overshadowed by first-class performances.

It is difficult to find an alternative release in the catalogues that is an exact match to these scores. The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet on BIS-CD-536 perform the Ibert Three Pièces brèves, Milhaud La cheminée du roi René, Françaix Wind Quintet No. 1, Koechlin Wind Sextet and the Tomasi Printemps. This BIS issue is positive regarded mainly for its charming and sensitive playing. The Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra Wind Quintet perform the Ibert Three Pièces brèves, Poulenc Sextet for Piano and Winds, Milhaud La cheminée du roi René and the Françaix Wind Quintet No. 1 on Naxos 8.557356. I experienced on this Naxos issue lacklustre performances that were short on dynamic contrast and vitality; a release best avoided. The polished and affectionate playing of the Athena Ensemble in Ibert’s Three Pieces breves admirable on Chandos CHAN 6543 c/w Gounod Petit symphonie and Poulenc Sextet.

I am delighted to have the opportunity of adding this Supraphon recording to my chamber music collection. These are French wind quintets superbly performed by a superior Czech ensemble.

Michael Cookson

 



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