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Les Six & Satie
L’Album des Six (1920) [9:40]
Georges AURIC (1899-1983)
Valse (1949) [2:23]
Five Bagatelles (1925) [6:04]
Louis DUREY (1888-1979)
Two Pieces for piano four hands, Opus 7 (1949) [9:35]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Prelude: Contrapoints (1922) [1:15]
Pastorale d’été (1920) [7:07]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Scaramouche (1937) [8:51]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Capriccio after Le bal masqué (1932) [4:37]
Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892-1983)
Jeux de plein air (1917) [9:04]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Parade (1917) [10:41]
Pascal & Ami Rogé (piano 4 hands)
rec. 2019, Le Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
ONYX 4219 [70:33]

Three weeks after the premiere of Satie’s Parade in 1917, Blaise Cendrars organised an evening of poetry and music in honour of the ballet. This was attended by artists and musicians who rallied around Erik Satie, forming the group Les Nouveaux Jeunes, and marking the emergence of a new musical avant-garde. The membership of Les Nouveaux Jeunes would soon settle upon Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Germaine Tailleferre and Georges Auric. With Satie as their spiritual father, and Jean Cocteau as their spokesman, the group was christened Les Six by the critic Henri Collet, after the Russian Mighty Five. With this identifying label, and a recognisable aesthetic of simplicity and pointed wit, the composers who had been writing privately for years were able to gain attention from the public as a new force in the artistic life of both Paris and the wider world.

Despite the attitudes that the six young composers had in common, their differences soon became far greater, and by the early years of the 1920s each was pursuing a career on his or her own. Today, we chiefly remember Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, and Arthur Honegger, whereas few compositions by the other three - Tailleferre, Auric or Durey – have remained in the repertory.
This Onyx disc attempts at a coherent statement of the aesthetic that is associated with Satie and Les Six, with duet performances by Pascal and Ami Rogé that are easy to admire and enjoy. The programme features all six members of the group, and ends with Satie’s Parade, which in truth should have been the starting point rather than the culmination of what is included.

In fact, the collective set of short items entitled L’Album des Six opens the programme. This was a commission from the publisher Eugène Demets, cashing in on the immediate notoriety the group had achieved, while insisting that the published order of the pieces should be alphabetical. But not all the music was written specially; Milhaud’s Mazurka, for instance, had been composed a few years previously. As a sequence, the collection makes interesting listening, and at just over two minutes Durey’s Romance sans paroles is the longest of them.

With its orchestral deployment including gunfire among other things, Parade itself might seem to rely upon such effects in order to make its mark, but this duet version stands up well to scrutiny, not least since it is performed by the Rogés with such élan. It is easy to understand why Satie made such an impression on the Paris of the day and on these young musicians, signifying a brave new world that rejected grandeur and emotional indulgence. Wit and anti-romanticism, even anti-impressionism, became the order of the day.

However, not all the music collected here comes under the banner of what should strictly be linked with Les Six. Perhaps this applies to the best music on offer: Milhaud’s Scaramouche, which dates from as late as 1937. Likewise, Poulenc’s Capriccio from Le Bal masqué is a product of the 1930s. At the same time, it is particularly intriguing to hear music by the less-celebrated composers such as Tailleferre and Durey, and as such this issue forms a most rewarding programme, well worth encountering while also featuring excellent recorded sound.

Terry Barfoot



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