Mona Bard / Rica Bard

Françaix: Concertos for 2 Pianos and Orchestra; Poulenc: Les Animaux Modèles Suite

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Even the demise of the modernist tyranny has not quite rescued the reputation of composer Jean Françaix, who had the misfortune to write light music in a serious age. For those who haven't heard much of Françaix, this delightful performance of his 1965 Concerto for two pianos and orchestra makes a fine place to start. A true Mozartian spirit should not need any justification, but for those who still require some, consider the masterful handling of the instruments: the entrancing second theme of the first movement is delivered by winds and horns, with the pianos dancing above. Recalling the Austrian emperor's admonition to Mozart that one of his operas contained "too many notes," Françaix said his concerto contained a lot of notes, but that he had chosen his "drops of rain" carefully. Although it is in four movements, not three, Françaix's concerto evinces a strong familiarity with Poulenc's Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra, a work that makes the influence of Mozart (as well as a brush with Balinese gamelan) explicit. German sister duo Mona and Rica Bard catches the high spirits of these works in technically unimpeachable performances, and there is a familial X factor working in their favor in the Françaix, which was written for performance by the composer and his daughter. An entr'acte is provided by Poulenc's Les animaux modèles, a seemingly innocent ballet that provided subtle messages of support for the French Resistance. The performance here by the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz under Ariane Matiakh is flat and un-Gallic, but the Françaix is worth the purchase price by itself.

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