Schubert sonatas

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Piano solo and duet
  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



MGB Records (Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund)



Quatuors Suisses pour Instruments à Anches
Boris MERSSON (b. 1921)
Odyssée à quatre, Op. 40 (1981) [12.55]
Barbara JAZWINSKI (b.?-d.?)
Blue Tango (1999) [7.45]
Hans-Martin LINDE (b. 1930)
Wind-Spiel (1993) [10.11]
Felix HUBER (b. 1952)
Holzminiaturen (1994) [11.46]
Jerzy DERFEL (b. 1941)
Sonata in blue (1994) [12.30]
Quatuor Francis Poulenc
rec. Musikschule Rheinfelden, 20-24 September 2001


This isn't a conventional wind program, but then the Quatuor Francis Poulenc isn't exactly a conventional wind ensemble, substituting an alto saxophone for the French horn that traditionally joins the woodwinds. Granted, nothing can duplicate the tonal velvet of a well-played horn solo. But the saxophone offers in its place a sinuous smoothness, while its reedy timbre more aptly partners that of the clarinet when harmonic or textural "filler" is needed. The resulting ensemble sonority "sounds French" - or, in this case, French-Swiss, the mixed ethnicity of the composers' surnames notwithstanding.

All the works in the program sound "modern" while being eminently listenable, their use of dissonance pungent rather than abrasive, but I was most taken with the works that bracket the program. Mersson's single-movement Odyssée à quatre is a striking twelve-minute interplay of colors and textures, with the saxophone assuming prominence in the home stretch, beginning at 9.54. There are haunting lyric passages, but it's the movement of shapely curves of sound, fragmenting and coalescing in a timbral palette expanded by an imaginative yet apt use of doublings, that lingers in the memory.

Derfel claims Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue as the inspiration for his three-movement Sonata in blue. Bluesy chords and jazzy syncopations set the first movement's tone, with the clarinet exploiting both its rich, low chalumeau register and a riffing squillante upper extension. The languid, sultry spirit of the central Blues further evokes Gershwin, while the closing Rondo is all minor-key playfulness.

The Linde and Huber pieces each have their fetching moments. Under the perky, divertimentoish veneer of Linde's Wind-Spiel ("Wind Play") lie complex, irregular rhythms which yet fall into place with a natural scansion and contour. Huber's "wood miniatures" - really miniatures: many of them last less than a minute - reach their expressive peak in the somber lyricism of the five-minute Élègie, which in turn effectively sets off the dash of the ensuing brief Fugato.

According to the booklet, Jazwinski's Blue Tango is "influenced by the New Orleans jazz" (sic), but you couldn't prove it by me, though bits of tango rhythm do pop up amid these seven minutes of searching, amorphous motivic slivers. A bit of low-range fluttertonguing at 4.45 - the only time we hear such an effect in the entire program - suggests perhaps a greater allegiance to academic compositional techniques (or clichés) than to any sort of jazz.

The members of the Quatuor Francis Poulenc, undaunted by Mersson's and Linde's rhythmic intricacies, contribute spankingly precise, full-toned playing throughout the program, serving up fleet virtuosity and poignant expression as needed. The lifelike sound reproduction, too, inspires awe. A demerit to the producers, however, for the stingy two-second pauses between tracks, even at the start of a composition - on first listening, I didn't know when the Linde had ended and the Huber begun.

Stephen Francis Vasta


MGB Records (Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund)




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