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Belle Époque
French Music for Wind
Orsino Ensemble
Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)
rec. 2020, Henry Wood Hall, London

Over the years I have been lucky enough to pick up some entertaining discs of French wind music which have given me much enjoyment, and as with this present disc, they are not performed by French musicians. On many of these discs, such as those by the Pro Arte Wind Quintet, Zurich (NI 5327) and the Reykjavík Wind Quintet (CHAN 9362) the works overlap but the Icelanders also offer some interesting arrangements and some recordings no longer available on disc. Add to this the plethora of discs of the single instrument with piano, flute or clarinet, and you would think I had most bases covered, but this new disc, again by non-native French performers, offers something different again by adding a piano to the ensemble. There are some well-known pieces for solo instrument and piano here, but on the whole these pieces are usually to be found on collections of the individual composer’s chamber music, so this one represents a well-conceived and well-executed collection.

This is the first of two Chandos discs this month to feature the flautist Adam Walker. The other one features music for flute and piano, but this disc offers music performed in varying combinations of the ensemble he founded in 2018. It opens with one of my favourite French works for winds, a sparkling performance of Roussel’s Divertissement for piano and wind quintet, a marvellous beginning to the SACD. It is a bright and colourful work with an almost jazz like piano riff which is initially joined by the oboe. My only other recording is by Jean-Jacques Kantorow and friends on a three CD set on Olympia (OCD 706 ABC), now available on Brilliant (8413); that is a set well worth tracking down by anyone who enjoys Roussel’s music, especially if you can find the original, as the booklet notes are better. At seven minutes, this new recording is slightly slower, and while there is little to choose between the quality of the performances, the clarity of the recorded sound here is a real winner, as the SACD really brings out every nuance of this music as well as the excellence of the performance; each of the five sections of this single movement piece is a delight from start to finish.

Next comes Claude Debussy, the best-known and most popular of the composers here, whose Petite Pièce was written for the sight-reading test of the Paris Conservatoire test in 1910. Slightly better known, if only in the orchestrated version, the Première Rhapsody of the same year was composed to test the student’s abilities. The clarinettist here, Matthew Hunt achieves every turn and trill called for in the music with great skill and feeling. The final piece on the disc returns to Debussy and is perhaps the best known of all the pieces presented here; Syrinx for solo flute is haunting under the fingers of Adam Walker, and a fitting way to conclude this wonderful disc.

Camille Saint-Saëns is represented by two pieces; the first is the Romance, originally the fourth movement from the Suite for Cello and Piano, here arranged for horn and piano. Alec Frank-Gemmill gives it a wonderfully mellifluous performance. The second piece is the Caprice sur des airs danois et ruses for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, and Piano, an attractive if somewhat rambling piece based on Danish and Russian folk tunes composed in honour of the Danish-born Tsarina Maria Fedorovna. It here receives a far more rewarding performance than my other recording by the Collegium Musicum Soloists (32062/63); it gives the music that extra spark.

The next piece on the disc is the Concertino for Flute with Piano, by Cécile Chaminade, an elegant rather than demanding work. Adam Walker once again brings out the best in this music. Then comes what is for me one of the finest pieces on this disc, the Deux Nocturnes for Horn, Flute, and Piano by Charles Koechlin. Although I know them well, I never tire of them. Here, once again, the performance is excellent and certainly brings more out of the music than you will find in the Koechlin Chamber music box (SWR19047CD).

The Quintet in B minor for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Piano by André Caplet is for me the real find on this disc. Supple and agile, this is wonderful work. While I am familiar with quite a bit of Caplet music, this Quintet was new to me. It is almost neoclassical in style, and also references French Impressionism via its unorthodox harmonies, and the extended clarinet solo in the second Movement Adagio, the only real solo in the whole work apart from some short bassoon work, is quite lovely. The notes refer to this being one of three pieces for winds by Caplet that featured in a concert, and if this is anything to go by, I must try to track down the composer’s other works for winds.

The Orsino Ensemble contains some of the cream of modern British wind players and this shines forth in their excellent, intuitive playing. Their ensemble work is sparkling throughout, and while I admit to preferring the pieces where a combination of winds play, their soloists also shine when they get their opportunity to perform. Pavel Kolesnikov’s contribution cannot be dismissed either; his insightful pianism shows that he is an excellent chamber recitalist, and his contributions here are most telling. The disc is aided by a nice acoustic and superb recorded sound and the booklet notes helpfully provide insight into the music. This is a most rewarding and welcome and rewarding disc, which I hope will be the first of many by the Orsino Ensemble.

Stuart Sillitoe

Albert ROUSSEL (1869–1937)
Divertissement for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, and Piano Op 6 (1906) [6:59]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862–1918)
Petite Pièce for Clarinet and Piano (1910) [1:29]
Première Rhapsodie for Clarinet and Piano (1909-10) [8:20]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835–1921)
Romance in F for Horn and Piano Op 36 (1874) [3:41]
Caprice sur des airs danois et ruses for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, and Piano Op 79 (1887) [11:36]
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857–1944)
Concertino for Flute with Piano Accompaniment Op 107 (1902) [8:29]
Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Deux Nocturnes for Horn, Flute, and Piano Op 32bis (1897-98, revised 1907, 1912) [6:37]
I Venise. Andante con moto – Tranquillo [3:10]
II Dans la forêt. Adagio [3:27]
André CAPLET (1878-1925)
Quintet in B minor for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Piano Op 8 (1898) [27:33]
I Allegro. Allegro brillamente - Un poco più lento - Tempo I - Un poco più lento - A tempo - Un poco più lento – [8:35]
II Adagio. Adagio - Un poco più animato - A tempo [7:26]
III Scherzo. Très vif - Trio - Da capo [3:52] 
IV Finale. Allegro con fuoco - A tempo con fuoco [7:48]
Syrinx ('La Flûte de Pan') for Solo Flute (1913) [3:38]
Originally incidental music to the play Psyché 

Orsino Ensemble
Adam Walker (flute)
Nicholas Daniel (oboe)
Matthew Hunt (clarinet)
Amy Harman (bassoon)
Alec Frank-Gemmill (horn)
Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)

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