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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Musique pour faire Plaisir (arr. Françaix, 1984) [9:28]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
Neuf pièces caractéristiques (1973) [15:20]
Sept danses (d’après le ballet sur «Les Malheurs de Sophie») (1948/1970) [12:39]
Élégie pour commémorer le bicentenaire de la mort de W. A. Mozart (1990) [5:02]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Cortège burlesque (1883, arr. Françaix, 1991) [5:17]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Trois Écossaises op. posth.72 (c.1826, arr. Françaix , 1989) [2:24]
Variations sur un air populaire allemande (c.1826, arr. Françaix, 1989) [6:24]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Trois marches militaires D.733 (1822, arr. Françaix , 1987) [14:53]
Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne/Nicolas Chalvin
rec. January 2021, Lausanne Opera, Switzerland.
CLAVES RECORDS 503032 [73:24]

This excellent new CD of Jean Françaix’s wind music is both interesting and delightful from the first note to the last. Characteristically genial music, it occasionally explores deeper matters. All are written for Wind Decet: two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns. I would suggest a slow exploration of this CD, taking each composition in turn. Unremitting pieces of wind music can begin to sound very much alike.

The recital gets off to a great start with a pairing of two excellent French composers providing “Music for Pleasure.” These delicious arrangements/concatenations of four piano pieces by Francis Poulenc present a Petite Valse-Introduction, an Élégie and the L'embarquement pour Cythère. Elements from Poulenc’s Mélancolie were added to the Élégie, making the fourth transcription. Wit and humour characterise this suite. That said, there are some reflective moments in the Élégie. The order of the pieces is variable.

Françaix wrote his Neuf pièces caractéristiques during 1973. These widely contrasting numbers create a “joyful fresco” of rhythmic vitality, thoughtful counterpoint and sassy harmonies. The set displays cleverly realised instrumentation, exploiting the timbres and technical abilities of the ten soloists and their instruments. It is hardly surprising that the liner notes declare that this is the composer’s masterwork for wind decet.

The second of the two original pieces by Jean Françaix is the arrangement of his ballet score, Les Malheurs de Sophie for wind decet. This stage work was premiered at the Paris Opéra in 1948. The original story involved Sophie and her cousin Paul in a serious of mischievous escapades, some of which seem quite dangerous. Françaix has utilized seven episodes from the ballet in this suite. Examples include The Doll’s Funeral, a Butterfly Net Dance and Teatime. The music is full of childlike humour and amiable imagination. The original ballet score in its orchestral version was released on the Hyperion label in 2004 (CDA67384).

The darkest and most introspective work on this disc is the Élégie pour commémorer le bicentenaire de la mort de W. A. Mozart. It was completed in 1990, for the following year’s commemoration. Françaix stated that it is in memory of the man, not the music. It emphasises the tragedy of Mozart’s early death in 1791, aged only thirty-five.

The title Cortège burlesque seems a contradiction in terms. In fact, it is full of fun, with Emmanuel Chabrier’s tongue well and truly in his cheek. On the one hand, we have a funeral march and on the other, a wicked caricature of funerary seriousness. This posthumously published piece was originally scored for piano duet in 1883. The wit transfers well to Françaix’s 1991 arrangement for wind ensemble.

An earlier generation of Chopin scholars considered that the Trios Ecossaises, op.72c (c.1829, pub. 1855) were the least individual of his compositions and that it might have been to his advantage of they had been destroyed. This is too harsh. These three Schottisches with their characteristic Scotch Snaps are fun. They are rarely heard on the pianoforte, but Françaix’s arrangement (1989) makes them an ideal encore. The fact remains that these are the only pieces that Chopin wrote that were true dances – to be danced to!

Equally catchy is the wind transcription of the young Polish composer’s Variations sur un air populaire allemande written in c.1825. The given tune is Der Schweizerbub (The Swiss Lad). The piano original shows Chopin as an adept on the keyboard. It opens with an improvised Capriccio before the folk tune is played Andantino. Four variations follow, including a witty Scherzando and a moody Espressivo which highlights a lovely melody on the horn. The final part of this work is an attractive valse. The full set is ideally suited to the various resonances of the woodwind. Françaix made his transcription in 1989.

Equally enjoyable is Jean Françaix’s imaginative recreation of Franz Schubert’s Trois marches militaires. These pieces were originally composed in 1822 for piano, four hands. The D major march is one of Schubert’s best-known tunes. It has been arranged for about every instrumental combination. The other movements are shifted around from their “conventional” place too. It is a more effective batting order, putting the famous march last. And some “twiddly bits” are added as well.

Françaix once wrote that Schubert is the greatest composer of all time. Bachians amongst us would disagree, but these three Marches work exceedingly well in this wind arrangement.

The playing by the Winds of Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne and their conductor Nicolas Chalvin is brilliant, detailed, and typically witty. This is reflected in the excellent recording. The liner notes in French and English are most helpful.

Like all of Jean Françaix’s music and arrangements (that I have heard), this is a gratifying programme of lovable, well-wrought and thoroughly entertaining music.

John France

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