Danses et Divertissements
Paul TAFFANEL (1844-1908) Wind Quintet in G minor (1878) [21:21]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Sextet for piano and wind quintet (1932-39) [17:07]
André JOLIVET Serenade for wind quintet with solo oboe (1945) [16:11]
Henri TOMASI (1901-1971) Cinq Danses Profanes et Sacrées (1948) [12:52]
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet: (Michael Hasel (flute); Andreas Wittmann (oboe); Walter Seyfarth (clarinet); Fergus McWilliam (horn); Henning Trog (bassoon)); Stephen Hough (piano)
rec. Dec 2004 (Poulenc) and May 2006, Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie Berlin, Germany, SACD
BIS-SACD-1532 [68:47]

Paul Taffanel was one of the founding fathers of the French flute school, working at the Paris Conservatoire and writing instructional methods and compositions for the instrument. He was established as a successful professional flute player, conductor and composer. His wind quintet in G minor is a charming work in three movements with strong melodic lines and Romantic-style harmonies. The melodic material is shared between the instruments equally, with each sound adding colour to the lines, particularly in the central Andante. The third movement is a fast-paced tarantella, which brings to mind Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet perform with comfortable ease, their individual tones blending well to create a polished overall ensemble sound which has the balance and sensitivity of an orchestral wind section.

Poulenc’s Sextet is an energetic and popular work with a modernist harmonic language, in comparison to the Taffanel, with strong neo-classical elements in the writing. The opening bars explode with vigour, and this is a highly convincing performance. The music settles into a more languid section, with expressive solos from each of the instruments and a hint of jazz influencing Poulenc’s style. The rest of the movement gathers momentum; this is an exciting rendition. The second movement is initially slow and brings to mind Stravinsky’s neo-classical works, before a comedic section breaks through with style. The final movement has dance-like elements and a sense of show-time grandeur, both of which are captured impressively in this enjoyable performance. This is a work which has become a repertoire standard, and this recording shows an excellent understanding of Poulenc’s style, with rapidly changing moods and a balanced sound. Stephen Hough’s piano playing complements this quintet well, providing a further dimension to the sound, giving punctuation to the rhythmic moments and blending well when required.

André Jolivet was a pupil of Varese and a contemporary of Messiaen in the group La Jeune France. His quintet features the oboe in a solo role and is in four short movements. The work was originally scored for oboe and piano as a test-piece for the Paris Conservatoire, but was later arranged for wind quintet. He has a distinct musical language which is both challenging and fascinating. This is a technically and rhythmically demanding piece, which exudes compositional flair. Another highly convincing performance, this is full of energy and sensitivity to style.

The final composer featured on this disc is Henri Tomasi, a composer who wrote frequently for wind instruments. His professional life included conducting as well as composing, and his music was influenced by folk and ethnic styles. He was compositionally concerned with melody, and this work is based around a series of dances with the intention of being accessible to an audience. This was in response to other composers of the time who he felt focused their attentions too much on the process of composition rather than the end result. His harmonies remind me at times of Holst, and there is a strong interest in tone colour in his writing. Opportunties are provided for each instrument to take centre-stage, and this is a work full of contrast and texture.

Throughout this disc, the most impressive aspect of this ensemble’s playing is the feeling of equality between the instruments. No single player is more important than any other within this quintet/ The individual sounds are allowed to flourish where appropriate, and then return to the accompanying sound to allow a colleague to take the lead. This is a fine example of chamber music playing, with some excellent repertoire heard at the highest standards.

Carla Rees