Choeur de l'Orchestre de Paris

Poulenc: Intégrale Musique du Chambre avec Vents

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The wind music of Francis Poulenc forms the backbone of the most beloved wind chamber music repertoire of the 20th century. Hindemith was more prolific in the genre, but Poulenc takes top honors because his wind music is simply so much more fun to play and listen to. Several of the pieces, the Sextuor for piano and winds, the Sonata for flute and piano, and Elégie for horn and piano, are undisputed masterpieces of the 20th century chamber repertoire, but all the works recorded here are a delight, with the substance and style to make them of interest to music lovers beyond simply fans of wind music. Poulenc wrote his wind pieces mostly in two creative bursts, one early in his career and one late, with the exception of two from smack in the middle, the Sextuor, which was given its final form in 1939, and the very brief 1942 flute solo, Un joeur de flûte berce les ruines, discovered in 1997 and recorded here for the first time. The early works tends to be influenced by neo-classicism, with a Scarlattian conciseness and clarity, but the imprint of Poulenc's astonishing, quirky wit is everywhere evident. The later pieces, composed after his embrace of Roman Catholicism and after the horrors of the Second World War, while retaining all the inventiveness and cleverness of the earlier works, have an additional mellow subtlety, a taste of melancholy, and a profundity similar to that heard in Les Dialogues des Carmélites, which Poulenc had written just before these wind solos. The players are the soloists of the Orchestre de Paris, and it's evident from their knowing performances that they have the composer's Gallic sensibility in their blood. This is particularly evident in the Sextuor; many performers luxuriate in the lush Romanticism of the first movement's second theme, but these players maintain just a touch of ironic detachment, and it feels exactly right. Besides being spirited, the performances are technically impeccable. The instrumentalists are accompanied by pianists Claire Désert and Emmanuel Strosser, who share their fine feeling for the composer's idiosyncrasies. The sound is generally clean, bright, and nicely balanced, except that the players in the Sonata for horn, trumpet, and trombone sound somewhat distant.

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