Francis POULENC (1899–1963)
Flute Sonata (1956/1957) [12:22]
Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano (1926) [12:02]
Clarinet Sonata (1962) [13:33]
Sextet for piano and wind quintet (1931/1939) [17:28]
Oboe Sonata (1962) [13:54]
Ensemble 360 (Guy Eshed (flute), Adrian Wilson (oboe), Matthew Hunt (clarinet), Peter Whelan (bassoon), Naomi Atherton (horn), Tim Horton (piano))
rec. 28–31 May 2008, Potton Hall, Suffolk. DDD
Poulenc’s three wind sonatas are all elegiac. The Flute Sonata was the result of a commission for a memorial to Mrs Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the American patroness of new chamber music. It is tinged with melancholy, and contains a beautifully understated, and slightly underwritten, slow movement. The Clarinet and Oboe Sonatas were created as memorials to two friends, Honegger and Prokofiev. In a delightful piece of programming, these three serious works are separated by two of Poulenc’s wittiest chamber pieces from his earlier life.
Guy Eshed plays the Flute Sonata without frills, he gives it as simply as he can. He allows the music to create, for the listener, the weave of sadness, but not resignation, this music celebrates as well as memorialises. It comes as a shock to the system when the opening chords of the Trio sound, for here we are in the dangerous Paris of the 1920s, with Poulenc playing the bad boy. There is much good humour in this performance, Wilson and Whelan working well together and complementing one another in terms of vivacity and lyricism.
The Clarinet Sonata was commissioned by Benny Goodman, but there’s none of the jazz that informs both Copland’s and Malcolm Arnold’s Concertos for this player. Matthew Hunt here gives a powerful performance, full of anger at the shortness of life, the abruptness of death, the taking away of a close friend. There is also a degree of anger in the finale, which is given a particularly thrilling ending.
Then back 30 years for the wonderful Sextet. This is as light as a good soufflé packed with good tunes, a small amount of pathos, and the raciest ideas Poulenc ever put in an instrumental piece. The six musicians make a gloriously fun sound and obviously enjoy every minute. Their advocacy is most welcome in this work, which still doesn’t see the light of day in the concert hall as often as it should.
To end, the real sadness and sense of loss which is the Oboe Sonata. Adrian Wilson presents this work as a eulogy, not an elegy, for a lost friend. True, there is violence and anger in the middle scherzo movement, but in general this is deeply felt, and, just possibly, the finest of the three Sonatas here recorded. An added tragedy to these final two elegiac works is that they were both given their premières after Poulenc’s death so they became memorials of the composer as much as of his friends.
This is a fine disk and one which is well worth having. The performances are very good, the interpretations excellent, and the recording satisfying, even if the performers are placed a little too close to the microphone so there is no feel of the space in which the recording was made. But with such good music-making this isn’t really important. Just make sure you choose the right volume setting and all will be well.
Bob Briggs
Well worth having … see Full Review