Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)

Orchestral and Piano Works
CD 1 [43:46]
La création du monde - ballet, Op. 81 (1923) [16:47]
Saudades do Brasil, Op. 67 (no 7, Corcovado; no 9, Sumaré; no 8, Tijuca; no 11, Larenjeiras) (1920-1921) [7:25]
Le boeuf sur le toit - ballet, Op. 58 (1919) [19:35]
ORTF National Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
CD 2 [70:16]
Scaramouche for two pianos Op. 165b (1937) [8:05]
Le Bal martiniquais for two pianos Op. 249 (1944) (Chanson Créole 2:32; Biguine 4:44)
Paris for four pianos Op. 284 () [10:26]
Le Carnaval d'Aix for piano and orchestra (1926) [16:08]
Suite française for orchestra, Op. 248 (1944) [13:42]
Suite provençale for orchestra, Op. 152b (1936) [13:26]
Michel Béroff; Jean-Philippe Collard; Christian Ivaldi; Noel Lee (pianos)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Georges Prêtre
rec. 12-13 November 1976, Salle Wagram, Paris (Bernstein); 1971, Paris (pianos), 1983, Monte-Carlo (CD2). ADD/DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9007 [43:46 + 70:16]
Five or so years ago I praised an outstanding and once inexpensive (now £15.00 on Amazon) Vox Double of Milhaud orchestral works. The set shares the same shelf and encomia despite its lop-sided timings. The lineage of the recordings can be traced to Pathé-Marconi and all are licensed from EMI Classics.
On the first and rather slackly filled disc we get three scores that play well to Bernstein’s strengths, flair and dynamism. We have heard them before as an EMI GROC. La Création du Monde is warm, dreamy and volatile. It’s a gunpowder blend of Bachian serenity, refracted jazz and Brazilian street culture. Le Boeuf sur le Toit is a sweaty glorious broth of rapidly changing, brassy popular music, soft-focus tangos, tangy abrasion, rambunctious brass and feral chatter. Why Bernstein only recorded four segments of Milhaud’s thirteen Saudades do Brasil I do not know. Still, they play well to his natural predilections though he can be slower than the composer in the same piece.
The second disc starts with Scaramouche (1937) written twenty years after he had been in South America. He never tries our patience – always the soul of brevity and concision; not at all the same thing. The outward flanking Vif and Brasileira are done with the pile-driven power of a pianola on steroids. It’s a romp for Lee and Ivaldi. If there’s exhilaration then we also get remission in the Modéré. There’s a touch of Constant Lambert in the Brasileira – gamin, bright-eyed and bell-rung. Scaramouche is familiar enough but Lee and Ivaldi then move to Le Bal Martiniquais (1944) with its two movements here shorn of the third. The little Chanson Creole carries the temperament of a lullaby and there’s also a strutting Biguine out of the same joyous stream as the Brasileira of Scaramouche. In 1948 came the six movement Paris for four pianos; Lee and Ivaldi are joined by Collard and Béroff. Again the movements each titled – six of them each related to landmarks and neighbourhoods of Paris. The music mixes strutting confidence in a blizzard of notes with gentlest dissonance as in the intriguing chimes of L'Isle Saint-Louis. A grand eighteenth century fugal bell-clashing manner could be heard in La Tour Eiffel. I wondered about Lee and Ivaldi's somewhat flat-levelled approach in opp. 165b and 249 but all is redeemed here with plenty of imaginative attention to dynamics.
Prêtre and his orchestra joins Béroff for Le Carnaval d'Aix. This dissolute, march-riven collage of euphoria (Corso), nursery rhyme simplicity (Tartaglia), bluesy subtlety (Isabelle), whistling, wheezy, darting Stravinskian energy and cartoonery blows the cobwebs away. Set beside this a polka that fuses Warsaw with Rio de Janeiro - Rio wins. The Souvenir de Rio charts the carnival spirit from shivering dawn through high noon to satiated nocturnal exhaustion. In the finale Milhaud takes the subtle line and makes it at first more of a sigh than a whoop. The street celebrations finally assert themselves in a spasm of joy. The remaining thirteen tracks of CD 2 comprise five for Suite Francaise (1944) and the remainder for Suite Provencale (1936); Milhaud was born in Provence. There's a more serious spirit at work here as in the miniature mysterious fogbound tone poems that are Bretagne and Alsace-Lorraine for op. 248. These two long movements bespeak a tenderness for these regions. Provence has the celebratory tone of Ile de France nicely underlined by the pipe and tabor orchestrational touches. Provence is the last movement of Suite Francaise and the subject of Suite Provencale. The latter in its succinctness, concentration and style is sometimes extremely redolent of Moeran's antique-accented and rustic-spirited Serenade. These two suites will also be familiar to some of you in windband versions.
The booklet is an exemplar of clarity in design and choice of font. It should not be necessary to highlight these things - they should be an unspoken given; experience tells us otherwise and ironically often in the hands of the major companies. Well done, Brilliant Classics.
Rob Barnett
An inexpensive and spirited introduction to Milhaud ... see Full Review