Danses et Divertissements

These Berliners effortlessly capture the joy in this handful of French fancies

Author: 
Geoffrey Norris

Danses et Divertissements

  • Wind Quintet
  • Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet
  • Sérénade
  • Danses Profanes et Sacrées pour quintette à vent

Tricky though these four works might be to play, these performances exude the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet’s joy in doing so and in being able to capture the music’s spirit so winningly. The earliest piece is the G minor Quintet of 1878 by the French flautist Paul Taffanel, a delightful jeu d’esprit of sprightly, lightly worn Gallic sophistication, underpinned by a wind-player’s expertise in exploiting the blend and solo potential not only of the flute but also of the oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. André Jolivet’s Sérénade (1945), refashioned from a solo competition piece for the Paris Conservatoire, focuses attention on the oboe and uses it with sensibility and an idiomatic awareness of the instrument’s tonal and technical orbit. The surrounding textures (originally for piano) make for an effective and imaginatively coloured perspective, be it in hazy shifts of light and shade or in the more clear-cut brilliance of the finale. The music of Henri Tomasi’s Cinq Danses profanes et sacrées (1948) is well made, resourceful as far as instrumental timbres go and executed with panache, but it remains elusive in terms of stylistic personality.

Poulenc’s Sextet, however, is instantly recognisable. Those pert phrases and his typical mix of popular idioms, smoky tunes and perfumed harmony are all there in this cheeky piece. Stephen Hough joins the wind-players for a spry performance that keeps things bubbling along, rising to the romantic heights but also keeping them in check, neatly pricking any balloon of emotion that might risk becoming too inflated.

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