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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Complete Music for Winds and Piano
Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1962) [12:59]
Sonata For Flute and Piano (1957) [11:17]
Sonata For Clarinet and Piano (1962) [12:52]
Trio For Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano (1926) [12:47]
Sextet For Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, French Horn and Piano (1939) [17:45]
Villanelle For Piccolo and Piano (1934) [1:34]
Elegy For French Horn and Piano (1957) [9:14]
The Iowa Ensemble (Nicole Esposito (flute and piccolo); Mark Weiger (oboe); Maurita Murphy Marx (clarinet); Benjamin Coelho (bassoon); Kristin Thelander (French horn); Alan Huckleberry (piano))
rec. 2006, Clapp Recital Hall, University of Iowa, USA. DDD
MSR CLASSICS MS1540 [78:14]

Poulenc always had a great affection for wind instruments and wrote two major works for wind and piano in the twenties and thirties. He turned to string sonatas in the forties and only resumed writing for winds in 1956 with the Flute Sonata. This was followed by the sonatas for clarinet and oboe and the Elegy for horn - all among his best-known chamber works.

Poulenc had already written three sonatas for winds without piano when he wrote the Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano and by this time his musical personality was mostly formed. Its most notable aspect is the plaintive sound that he derives from the interplay between the two wind instruments. This ability to utilize the unique sound of winds is equally evident in the small Villanelle for pipes, here played on the piccolo. While Poulenc described his Sextet as "chamber music of the most straightforward kind" it seems more like a chamber orchestra work than one might think from the composer's description. This is especially true in the opening Allegro vivace with its passing of thematic material from one instrument to another and in the Finale with its almost "orchestral" solos.

In the 1950s Poulenc returned to writing for winds, intending to write sonatas for all the primary wind instruments. In 1957 he began at the top with the Flute Sonata, one of his best-known chamber works. It has a wide variety of moods in the first movement and the succeeding Cantilena is the composer at his most nostalgic. The last movement is full of typical energy. It should be pointed out that the composer was also working on his Dialogues of the Carmelites at this time and the atmosphere of that work and of his other late religious music is much in evidence throughout the sonata.

Poulenc's three succeeding wind works are all in memory of fellow musicians. The well-known Elegy was written to commemorate the horn-player Dennis Brain. It is full of a sense of loss, sometimes sinking to desperation. Both the Clarinet and Oboe sonatas date from 1962, not long before Poulenc's own death, and are dedicated to the memory of Honegger and Prokofiev respectively. The Clarinet Sonata vividly embodies the voice of the instrument. The two themes of the first movement are well-contrasted and the second is one of Poulenc's most haunting. The succeeding Romanza could just as easily be labeled "tristamente" as the first movement and this feeling of sadness continues even into the virtuoso finale. Like the Flute Sonata that for oboe contains references to the style of Poulenc's religious works. These are combined with an even greater sense of sadness than that of the Clarinet Sonata and demonstrate a unique use of the oboe's capacity for mournfulness.

These recordings date from 2006. All the musicians are or were on the staff of the music department at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Through the years they have regularly performed together and the cohesion of their ensemble is quite impressive. Especially notable is Nicole Esposito, Associate Professor of Flute at the University, in her two pieces. She has a beauty of tone and fluidity of playing that is exceptional. The well-known bassoonist Benjamin Coehlo is impressive as usual in the two works in which he participates. The other instrumentalists are also excellent and Alan Huckleberry is to be commended also for bringing these performances before a wider public. As an aside, those listeners who are interested in Hindemith may wish to go to his web-site for details of his latest project. The recording quality on this disc is both life-like and intimate. In short, while there are numerous recordings of the individual Poulenc works for winds this disc is attractive both for its completeness and for its sense of ensemble not to mention the joy in playing conveyed by the performers.

William Kreindler

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