There is so much insouciant charm and harmonically spiced wit
in these three CDs that it’s difficult to know where to start.
The discs don’t progress chronologically and, in any case, dipping
into and out of Françaix’s sound-world one set at a time is
by far the best solution.
The stage is set in the first piece, an innocent sounding Scherzo
from 1932 that rejoices in a conflation of music box and Ragtime.
Cinq portraits de jeunes filles is an ingenious little
cycle sporting a deliciously plangent Sicilienne whilst
a decade later, in 1947, he wrote six Eloge de la danse
with their extensive super-titles belying their brevity - only
one broaches three minutes. The highlight is the supercharged
moto perpetuo fourth. The 1960 Sonata is another typically
brisk and compact effusion, dedicated to Idil Biret. It goes
without saying that it embodies plenty of typically puckish
writing and a degree of warmth in its slow movement. The Cinq
Bis do indeed provide opportunities for encore material
for every occasion. Of increasing difficulty, they’re full of
caprice, not least in the Ragtime of the fourth. Huit Variations
sur le nom de Johannes Gutenberg was written when the composer
was 70 and its sombre theme is followed by lively, rhythmically
The second disc is not a bit less enjoyable but here we meet
some two-piano pieces, such as Huit danses exotiques
where Martin Jones is joined by Richard McMahon in this dance
suite that sounds very like Milhaud in light mood. 15 portraits
d’enfants d’Auguste Renoir, with Adrian Farmer this time,
was written in 1972 and sounds like an imposing musico-biographical
series of portraits, but actually it’s a transcription of an
orchestral work designed for young musicians, and full of teaching
material at one effective and rather lovely. La Promenade
d’un Musicologue Eclectique was composed in 1987 and is
made up of homages to composers. The Handel movement evokes
one of his Harpsichord Sarabandes, whilst the light, fluid Scarlatti
is a charmer. The Ravel ‘hommage’ is played quite straight,
for Françaix’s admiration of the composer was seemingly undimmed
by time. There’s a none-too-sly dig at contemporary atonality
in the panel dedicated to Contemporary Music. It’s a very rare
example of Françaix genuinely indulging in nose-thumbing.
The final disc opens with Si Versailles m’était conté...
(1953), a transcription of excerpts from a 1953 film. Napoléon
(1953), also from a film score and written for four hands (Jones
and Farmer), sees a series of waltzes and marches embedded including
a notably jazzy, satiric march (‘tragique’) that evokes the
Milhaud of Boeuf sur le toit days. The brilliant Scuola
di Ballo is Françaix’s answer to Stravinsky’s appropriation
of baroque models (Pergolesi), given that in this ballet the
Frenchman employed themes by Boccherini. The neo-classical vitality
is hard to resist.
These sparkling, diverse pieces are all played with real Gallic
verve by Jones and his two colleagues and the recorded sound
is just right, and not too billowy. With a first class booklet
into the bargain, lovers of the Ravel and Satie-spiced, jazz-infused,
rhythmically inexhaustible Françaix can entertain no reservations
over this set.
See also review by Paul
C Godfrey and Steve
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