Chandos release of Chamber Music for ‘Piano and Wind Instruments’
contains five scores, four of which were written by French composers.
The non-French work is the Piano Quintet by Rimsky-Korsakov.
The disc provides a fitting showcase for the undoubted talents
of Russian-born pianist Vovka Ashkenazy. Recorded in 1999 we
are not told if the disc consists of previously released material.
first work is Poulenc’s three movement Sextet that he
dedicated to Louvre curator Georges Salles. He wrote the score
in 1932 and displeased with his efforts undertook considerable
revision in 1939. The briskly performed, light-hearted opening
movement overflows with lyricism. From 2:04 the levity subsides
with a calmer ballad-like central section that gradually grows
in intensity. At 7:11 the mood of the opening makes an abrupt
return. The middle movement contains pleasantly tuneful music
of a rather sentimental character. An extrovert and often rhythmic
final movement recalls the light and easygoing lyricism of the
opening movement. A gentle section develops in weight to end
the score in a mood of uncertainty.
favourite version of the Poulenc Sextet, notable
for its cheerfulness and sense of immediacy is from pianist
Alexandre Tharaud, flautist Philippe Bernold, oboist Olivier
Doise, clarinettist Ronald van Spaendonck, Hervé Joulain on
French horn and bassoonist Laurent Lefèvre. The disc was recorded
in Paris in the mid-late 1990s and is available on Naxos 8.553611.
three movement Quintet is stylish with a sense of a traditional
Russian character. He wrote only a small amount of chamber music
and the Quintet was composed in 1876 especially for a
Russian Musical Society chamber contest and published posthumously.
Rumbustious, child-like frolics pervade the opening movement
whilst the central movement has a sensitive almost elusive character.
The engaging and imaginative finale contains cadenzas for each
of the instruments and consequently feels somewhat disjointed.
retain a high regard for the version of the Rimsky-Korsakov
from pianist Felicja Blumental and members of the New Philharmonia
Wind Ensemble for their adroit interpretation. It has heaps
of lyricism combined with an appealing degree of exuberance.
The 1979 Chelsea, London performance is available on Brana Records
BR0019 c/w the Rubinstein Quintet for piano and wind,
Françaix’s sextet L’Heure du berger was written
for a French National Radio commission in 1947. The title translates
roughly as ‘The Shepherd’s Hour’ or ‘The Shepherd’s
Rest’ and carries the subtitle of ‘Musique de Brasserie’
the name of a Parisian restaurant. The sextet is actually a
suite containing three musical portraits. The bizarre opening
picture Les Vieux Beaux is a mad-cap piece where frivolity
abounds. In Pin-up Girls the clarinet is highly assertive
in this tongue-in-cheek tableau and the final portrait Les
Petits Nerveux comes across as a frantic game of chase.
I do not have a version of Françaix’s L’Heure du berger
to recommend the alternative recording most likely to be
encountered is from the Gaudier Ensemble with Susan Tomes. Recorded
at the Henry Wood Hall, London in 1997 the performance is available
on Hyperion CDA67036 c/w Françaix: Octet -A huit;
Divertissement and Clarinet Quintet.
Saint-Saëns wrote the quartet Caprice sur des airs danois
et russes to take on a tour of St. Petersburg in 1887. As
the Empress Maria Feodorovna, a Danish Princess, was to be present
at the intended occasion Saint-Saëns delightfully and proficiently
combined Danish and Russian themes into the score. However,
I have read that the themes were of Saint-Saëns’s own creation.
Divided into six sections the score is played without a break.
It opens with a Poco allegro that has a brazen and boastful
character; I enjoyed the reverential and courtly Andantino;
the serious and reserved Moderato and the bustling
and light-hearted Allegro vivace.
greatly admire the version of the Saint-Saëns Caprice from
members of the Ensemble Villa Musica who play it persuasively
with great fluency and considerable panache. Their 1991 Bad Arolsen
performance has been re-issued on MDG Gold 304 0395-2 c/w Saint-Saëns
Chamber Music for Wind Instruments and Piano: Oboe Sonata,
Op. 166; Clarinet Sonata, Op. 167; Bassoon Sonata,
Op. 168 and Romance for Flute and Piano, Op. 37.
Another fine version of the Saint-Saëns Caprice is from
members of the Nash Ensemble who offer fresh, thoughtful and invigorating
performances. Their 2004 Henry Wood Hall, London performance is
on a double set on Hyperion CDA67431-2 c/w Septet, Op 65;
Tarentelle for flute, clarinet and piano, Op 6; Bassoon
Sonata, Op 168; Piano Quartet, Op 41; Piano Quintet,
Op 14; Oboe Sonata, Op 166 and Clarinet Sonata,
d’Indy’s sextet Sarabande et Menuet was written
in 1918. The composer arranged both the Sarabande and
Menuet from his five movement Suite dans le style ancien,
(Suite in the olden style) for two flutes, trumpet
and string quartet, Op. 24 from 1886. This colourful and appealing
score feels somewhat orchestral in weight. I found the Sarabande
even-tempered and the spirited Menuet bouncy and
is still listed in the catalogue an admired 1991 release of
the d’Indy Sarabande et Menuet that also contains the
above mentioned Saint-Saëns Caprice and Françaix L’Heure
du berger. Featuring the playing of pianist Pascal Rogé
et al it may be possible to track down this valuable
and celebrated disc of French Chamber Music on the Decca
London label 425 861-2 c/w Roussel Divertissement; Tansman
Danse de la sorcière; Poulenc Elégie and Milhaud
Sonata for flute, oboe, clarinet and piano.
this Chandos recording I was struck by the way that pianist
Vovka Ashkenazy and the Reykjavík Wind Quintet perform persuasively
without any tendency for histrionics. I was left with a strong
sense that they were letting the music do the talking. Some
listeners might prefer an increased accentuation of dynamics
and feel that the music would profit at times from slightly
more bite. The Chandos sound quality is recorded to a decent
standard with an admirable balance between piano and winds.
The booklet notes from Edward Blakeman are impressive, providing
much interesting and appropriate information.