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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. No date given. Klosterbibliothek Polling, Germany
SOLO MUSICA SM251 [53:48]

Performed by principal members of Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the annual series of Kammerabend recitals at Semperoper are sufficient for Dresden audiences to buy tickets long before the programme is known. I have been told of its great popularity and performance excellence earlier this year, so I attended a Semperoper Kammerabend played by Dresdner Oktett in a programme of the Beethoven Septet, Op. 30 and Schubert Octet, D803. Sure enough, Semperoper was packed.

On this album, Kammerharmonie der Staatskapelle Dresden is collaborating with the renowned pianist Margarita Höhenrieder. They recorded a programme of sextets for piano and winds by Thuille, Poulenc and Françaix. Höhenrieder has a flourishing career as a concert pianist on the international stage. She is also a professor at Hochschule für Musik und Theater München, the same institution where Thuille also worked as a professor. Kammerharmonie der Staatskapelle comprises principals in the Dresden orchestra. Three of them also play with Bayreuther Festspiele Orchester.
Ludwig Thuille’s Sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn opens the programme. Born in Bolzano in the South Tyrol region of Italy, Thuille studied with Josef Rheinberger at Munich and was a lifelong friend of Richard Strauss. Although Thuille is largely forgotten today, the four-movement Sextet completed in 1888 is a real find. The players seem to relish playing such an irresistible and highly melodic score with its satisfying instrumental balance. The opening Allegro moderato feels wistful. The Larghetto is gloriously undemanding and mellow in mood. Elegant and melodic, the Gavotte is light on its feet, and I am enthused by the fleet, spirited playing of the attractive Finale: Vivace.

Much loved by his wide circle of friends, Parisian composer Francis Poulenc seemed incapable of writing anything unappealing or uninteresting. An unerring master craftsman, Poulenc wrote in most genres: eminently accessible songs, instrumental, chamber, orchestral and opera music, all generally bursting with melody, alive with charm and abounding in joie de vivre. On the other hand, his more serious side is manifested in the powerful opera Dialogues des Carmélites, set against the fear and disorder of the French Revolution, and in a number of late sacred choral work.

Certainly the finest work and best known on this album is Poulenc’s Sextet for piano and wind quintet. Written in 1932 and revised in 1939, the colourful three movement score is a highly attractive, elegant work with upbeat and rambunctious outer movements flanking a central Divertissement: Andantino, predominantly lyrical and relatively calming.

In the Thuille and Poulenc sextets, the main competition comes from an excellent three-disc collection for piano and winds played by Les Vents Français on Warner (review).
Jean Françaix was born in Le Mans, France. He studied piano at Le Mans Conservatoire, moving up to composition at Paris Conservatory. His teachers included Nadia Boulanger, Isidor Philipp and Henri Büsser. He also knew Stravinsky and became a friend of Poulenc. A prolific and acclaimed composer of over two hundred works, Françaix led a successful career as a concert pianist. One of his most performed scores, L’heure du berger, a rather short suite for piano and wind quintet subtitled “Musique de Brasserie”, was written in 1947 in admiration of a renowned Paris restaurant. It is a set of music sketches of the Parisian café scene. Les Vieux beaux (The old dandies), the opening movement, is infused with the essence of the dance, the central movement Pin-up Girls feels like a polite conservation, and the rhythmic final movement Les petits nerveux (Anxious children) is bright and vibrant.

No date given in the notes, but the album recorded at Polling Klosterbibliothek is satisfyingly produced with warm, clear sound, good presence and an agreeable balance between keyboard and winds.

The memorable playing of Höhenrieder and Kammerharmonie der Staatskapelle Dresden is beyond reproach. Höhenrieder adopts an approach with an engaging freshness and warmth that feels spontaneous. This is playing of distinction from Staatskapelle winds, demonstrating artistry, impeccable technical prowess and unity, and producing stunning intonation.

There is no reason for chamber music lovers to hesitate with this mightily impressive album.

Michael Cookson



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