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Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892-1983)
Images for 8 Instruments (1918) [3:09]
String Quartet (1919) [10:00]
Violin Sonata no.1 (1921) [15:52]
Sonata for solo clarinet (1957) [5:39]
Arabesque (1972/3) [2:55]
Violin Sonata no.2 (1948) [12:34]
Forlane for Flute and Piano (1972) [2:35]
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello (1978) [12:50]
Ulrike Siebler (flute), Deborah Marshall (clarinet), Heiko Strahlendorff (celesta)
Angela Gassenhuber (piano), Renate Eggebrecht (violin), Friedemann Kupsa (cello)
Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet/Wolfram Buchenberg
rec. 1992
TROUBADISC TRO-CD01406 [66:42]

Slow, but we get there in the end. This disc of Germaine Tailleferre's chamber music was made in 1993 before MusicWeb International was founded.

At her best, Tailleferre shows even more imagination than Poulenc. If you dig far enough into her patchily recorded legacy, there is a stunning double piano concerto, some fine songs and distinctive chamber music. Her style, although very much in keeping with Les Six, is more sympathetic to French Impressionism. There are nods to Debussy as well as Les Six's typical emphasis on forgotten baroque forms and styles. This current disc is a pleasingly in-depth overview of Tailleferre's chamber works, spread out across her long life. This is an important point to make, as in her late period there was a waning of commissions and also of musical inspiration as she moved into teaching.

Image is an exquisitely harmonised bit of tonal modernism. The delicious use of celesta creates a fairytale-like short piece of gossamer light textures and harmonies. The string quartet could be mistaken for Ravel, such is its melodic lightness and taut structure. Elegant but deftly modern for its period, it is a masterpiece.

The two violin sonatas from 1921 and 1948 clearly define two separate eras. Unlike Poulenc and Milhaud, Tailleferre is a lot less dismissive of the older generation in France with more than a proud whiff of Fauré in the melodic development. The ambiance of the first sonata is of confidently written, unapologetic salon music in each of its four movements, until its frenzied, rhapsodic finale which then dies down to a folk- infused flourish. Albeit more conventional in three separate movements, the 1948 sonata continues Tailleferre's unapologetic tonality and playful elegance. Although less woven in with the late 19th century style, there is melody and classic sonata form, written at the dawn of the Boulez era in France.

As I have generally noticed about her, there is a tailing off of inspiration post-war when the trials of two divorces and unglamorous music-teaching took their toll. 1957's Sonata for solo clarinet is a case in point: pleasant enough but it sounds as meandering and bored as its creator. Adding a piano helps in 1972's Arabesque for clarinet and piano. It is a plaintive, melancholy opening melody that turns into a simple, well-constructed miniature.

Forlane is, likewise, a pleasing, baroque inspired short for flute and piano. Elegant and simple with its ABA form, it is less maudlin than some of her 1970s writing could be. The piano trio from 1978 has some very interesting sections, cold and awkward in its restlessness but just about contradicting my view of her running out of ideas. What does show is the lack of joy apparent in her post-war writing.

The playing here is enjoyable and spirited throughout, even if I can't quite say faultless. Renate Eggebrecht's intonation is dodgy in places and there are scruffy moments of ensemble and tuning elsewhere. Sound is a little thick at times with overmiked strings but, like the playing, generally good at showcasing Tailleferre's quirky writing. It is an excellent survey of her non-vocal work and proves how unfair posterity has been to her. This is not a condescending, hand-wringing plea to pay heed to a female composer. She is proof that gender is of no importance in composing good music. There are other Tailleferre discs in this series and they all have something to recommend them. Yes, some works are hit-and-miss but consistency wasn't a hallmark of the five men of Les Six either.

Barnaby Rayfield

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