Milhaud Chamber Symphonies
It could be argued from this disc that (as some of us have long suspected) with his fatal facility, which often led him to note-spinning, Milhaud was at his best as a miniaturist: it is observable here that his level of inspiration is at its lowest in the only two movements of Les reves de Jacob which exceed three minutes. But the first movement of this work, written in 1949 for the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival and virtually a chamber concerto for oboe (elegantly and delicately played here by Ingo Goritzki) is charming. Pleasing too, in their slight way, are the tiny movements of the 1937 suite for wind trio on themes by Corrette, though the deliberate wrong-note harmony sounds contrived today. As the movements were written as incidental music for a performance of Romeo and Juliet, I can’t help wondering what was the relevance in it of an obstreperous cuckoo.
The main works here, though, are the chic and attractive “little symphonies” composed between 1917 and 1923 for from seven instruments (Nos. 2 and 3) to ten (No. 4 for strings – originally including specially designed instruments, the highest of which “sounded like a bad violin” according to the composer himself – and No. 5 for wind), though No. 6 is for four wordless voices (beautifully sung here), oboe and cello. All feature polytonality, but their idiom is diverse – from folky (No. 1) to blues-y (No. 6); and despite the brevity of the movements (only two last as long as three minutes) they are packed, indeed in places overstuffed, with textural and rhythmical intricacies. Milhaud’s love of counterpoint manifests itself in a bizarre fugue to end No. 4. The excellent Villa Musica ensemble take most movements rather more deliberately than did Milhaud himself in his 1969 recording with the Luxembourg orchestra (Vox, 12/69 – nla), to the benefit of their clarity; and it is infinitely more sensitive and better balanced. The recording throughout is thoroughly realistic. Milhaud fans need not hesitate.'