The Gramophone Choice
Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet. Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano. Flute Sonata. Oboe Sonata. Clarinet Sonata. Violin Sonata. Cello Sonata. Sonata for Two Clarinets. Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon. Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone. Villanelle. Elégie. Sarabande
Nash Ensemble (Philippa Davies fl/picc Gareth Hulse ob Richard Hosford, Michael Harris cls Ursula Leveaux bn Richard Watkins hn John Wallace tpt David Purser tbn Leo Phillips vn Paul Watkins vc Craig Ogden gtr) Ian Brown pf
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Invidious as it may seem to pick out just one of these excellent artists, special mention must be made of Ian Brown, who plays in nine of the 13 works included and confirms his standing as one of the most admired and musicianly chamber pianists of our day. He knows, for example, how to control Poulenc’s boisterous piano-writing in the Sextet without sacrificing the sparkle, and as a result the work coheres better than ever before. Like the Trio (whose opening reveals Stravinskian influence), it’s a mixture of the composer’s madcap gamin mood and his predominantly melancholy bittersweet lyricism. The latter characteristic is most in evidence in his most enduring chamber works: the solo wind sonatas with piano, all three of which were in the nature of tombeaux, the Flute Sonata for the American patron Mrs Sprague Coolidge, that for clarinet for Honegger, and that for oboe for Prokofiev. All are given idiomatic, sensitive and satisfying performances by the Nash artists.
The Elégie for Dennis Brain was a not altogether convincing experiment in dodecaphony: Poulenc had earlier dabbled in atonality and polytonality in the little sonatas (really sonatinas) for, respectively, two clarinets and for clarinet and bassoon. There’s a touching reading of the little Sarabande for guitar. A hint of the guitar’s tuning at the start of the second movement is almost the only Spanish reference in the Violin Sonata, which was composed in memoriam the poet Lorca, whose loss is bitterly suggested in the angry finale. In this work Poulenc allotted to the piano (his own instrument) rather more than equal status in the duo – a situation paralleled in the light-hearted Cello Sonata, over which the composer dallied longer than any other of his works – but balance in both is finely judged by the performers and the recording team.