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.
MGB Records (Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund)