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Ludwig THUILLE (1861-1907)
Sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn, Op. 6 (1886/1888) [27:28]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn, FP 100 (1932/1939) [18:26]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
L’heure du Berger for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (1947) [7:47]
Margarita Höhenrieder (piano); Kammerharmonie der Sächsischen Staatskapelle Dresden
rec. Klosterbibliothek Polling, Germany
SOLO MUSICA SM251 [53:48]

Although his music was popular during his lifetime, Ludwig Thuille’s reputation seems to have fallen by the wayside to some extent. Having said that, labels such as Naxos seem to be heading a rehabilitation process, and the Sextet now has a couple of alternative versions on CD. He became a life-long friend of Richard Strauss, but whereas Strauss developed progressively, Thuille remained rooted in late Romanticism. His early works are dominated by larger scored chamber music, of which this Op. 6 Sextet remains one of its most popular examples. The scoring he opts for was novel at the time. Two outer fast movements bookend two slower inner ones. The more substantial first movement, with its strikingly memorable first subject, is not short of lush melody. In the lyrical Larghetto, which follows, the horn takes centre stage; its autumnal feel recalls Brahms. The third movement is a particularly delightful Gavotte, in which the bassoon is given some prominence. The work ends with an energetic and uplifting finale.

Poulenc’s humour, wit, urbanity and dilettantism, characteristic traits of Les Six, of which he was the youngest member, imbue his delightful Sextet. He had a love of wind instruments, and all but three of his thirteen chamber works feature them. In those, combining winds and strings, the latter group seems lesser profiled. The Sextet follows the three-movement slow-fast-slow template, favoured by the composer. The first movement makes its presence felt from the start, with a dramatic opening gesture. The music is extrovert, and the scoring fully exploits the instrument’s individual characters and colours. The slow movement begins with a lyrical oboe theme, with the horn offering some discreet support. To add some contrast, there’s a whimsical middle section. Geniality and good humour permeate the first half of the rondo finale. The second half is more pensive and subdued.

Françaix’s style, with its wit and irony, was very close to that of Poulenc. The three movements, which make up L'heure du Berger are titled ‘Les vieux beaux’ (The Old Dandies), ‘Pin-Up Girls’ and ‘Les petits nerveux’ (Nervous Children), and each vividly portrays these three groups in a café. It’s a glance back to the Twenties.

There are excellent contributions from all concerned, with the soloists vividly captured in the sympathetic acoustic of Klosterbibliothek Polling. This release constitutes a valuable addition to any chamber music collection.
Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Michael Cookson



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