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FRANCIS POULENC - COMPLETE CHAMBER WORKS
London Conchord Ensemble

 

 

 
1. Poulenc, Francis [5:56]
Sonata for Cello and Piano (i) Allegro - Tempo di Marcia

2. Poulenc, Francis [6:36]
Sonata for Cello and Piano (ii) Cavatine - Très calme

3. Poulenc, Francis [3:26]
Sonata for Cello and Piano (iii) Ballabile - Très animé et gai

4. Poulenc, Francis [6:56]
Sonata for Cello and Piano (iv) Finale - Largo très librement - Presto subito - Largo

5. Poulenc, Francis [6:24]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (i) Allegro con fuoco

6. Poulenc, Francis [5:39]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (ii) Intermezzo - Très lent et calme

7. Poulenc, Francis [5:18]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (iii) Presto tragico - Strictement la double plus lent

8. Poulenc, Francis [4:08]
Sonata for Flute and Piano (i) Allegretto malincolico

9. Poulenc, Francis [3:57]
Sonata for Flute and Piano (ii) Cantilena - Assez lent

10. Poulenc, Francis [3:26]
Sonata for Flute and Piano (iii) Presto giocoso

11. Poulenc, Francis [5:03]
Sonata for Oboe and Piano (i) Elegie - Paisiblement

12. Poulenc, Francis [3:56]
Sonata for Oboe and Piano (ii) Scherzo - Très animé

13. Poulenc, Francis [4:08]
Sonata for Oboe and Piano (iii) Deploration - Très calme

14. Poulenc, Francis [5:33]
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (i) Allegro tristamente - Très calme - Tempo allegretto

15. Poulenc, Francis [5:01]
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (ii) Romanza - Très calme

16. Poulenc, Francis [3:20]
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (iii) Allegro con fuoco - Très animé

17. Poulenc, Francis [7:46]
Sextet for Piano Flute Oboe Clarinet Bassoon and Horn (i) Allegro vivace - Très vite et emporté

18. Poulenc, Francis [4:46]
Sextet for Piano Flute Oboe Clarinet Bassoon and Horn (ii) Divertissement - Andantino

19. Poulenc, Francis [5:58]
Sextet for Piano Flute Oboe Clarinet Bassoon and Horn (iii) Finale - Prestissimo - Subito très lent

20. Poulenc, Francis [1:07]
Un Joueur de Flute Berce Les Ruines

21. Poulenc, Francis [2:04]
Villanelle for Piccolo (Pipe) and Piano - Modéré

22. Poulenc, Francis [3:54]
Sonata for Horn Trumpet and Trombone (i) Allegro moderato - Grazioso

23. Poulenc, Francis [3:02]
Sonata for Horn Trumpet and Trombone (ii) Andante - Très lent

24. Poulenc, Francis [1:50]
Sonata for Horn Trumpet and Trombone (iii) Rondeau - Animé

25. Poulenc, Francis [3:30]
Sarabande for Solo Guitar - Molto calmo e melanconica

26. Poulenc, Francis [1:50]
Sonata for Two Clarinets (i) Presto

27. Poulenc, Francis [2:37]
Sonata for Two Clarinets (ii) Andante - Très lent

28. Poulenc, Francis [1:57]
Sonata for Two Clarinets (iii) Vif - Vite avec joie

29. Poulenc, Francis [1:48]
Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon (i) Allegro - Très rythmé

30. Poulenc, Francis [3:03]
Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon (ii) Romance - Andante très doux

31. Poulenc, Francis [3:08]
Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon (iii) Finale - Très animé - Andante

32. Poulenc, Francis [9:08]
Élégie for Horn and Piano (In Memory of Dennis Brain)

33. Poulenc, Francis [5:06]
Trio for Piano Oboe and Bassoon (i) Lent - Presto

34. Poulenc, Francis [3:24]
Trio for Piano Oboe and Bassoon (ii) Andante con moto

35. Poulenc, Francis [3:03]
Trio for Piano Oboe and Bassoon (iii) Rondo - Très vif

Artist(s):
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London Conchord Ensemble is a flexible ensemble of internationally recognised young soloists, chamber musicians and principals from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Opera House Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Based in London, the ensemble explores both the traditional and contemporary repertoire of chamber music written for combinations of strings, wind, voice and piano, mixing well-known masterpieces with new discoveries. The group’s particular passion is to bring to the fore great works which are seldom heard because of their unusual instrument combination.

Following their critically acclaimed debut at the Wigmore Hall in October 2002, the ensemble has continued to perform extensively throughout the UK, Europe and North America. Highlights of recent seasons include performances at Schleswig Holstein Musik Festival, Dusseldorf Tonhalle, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Palais des Beaux Arts, Niedersachsen Musik Festival and tours of Ireland, France and America. The ensemble

enjoys regular collaborations with guest vocalists and recent concerts at Windsor Festival, Newbury Festival, Winchester Festival and Chelsea Festival have included Dame Felicity Lott, Sue Bickley, Andrew Kennedy, James Gilchrist and Katherine Broderick.

Ensemble-in-residece at Champs Hill, the London Conchord Ensemble has received wide critical acclaim for recordings of Poulenc, George Crumb, Thuille, Loeffler, Pierene and Durufle and Bach on the Champs Hill Records and Black Box labels and regularly appears on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM.

Julian Milford ~ piano

An English graduate of Oxford University, Julian Milford subsequently studied piano and piano accompaniment at the Curtis Institute and the Guildhall. He works as an accompanist and chamber musician with some of Britain’s finest instrumentalists and singers, performing at major chamber music venues
across Britain and Europe. Julian’s recent concerts have included recitals with baritones Sir Thomas Allen, Toby Spence and Christopher Maltman, mezzo- soprano Sarah Connolly, and cellist Han-Na Chang in venues including the
Frick Collection in New York, the Philharmonie in Cologne and the
Herkulessaal in Munich, as well as at the City of London and Cheltenham festivals.

Julian has also recorded extensively for major independent recording labels including Hyperion, ASV and Black Box. He has made a number of recordings with the distinguished violinist Lydia Mordkovitch for Carlton Classics and Chandos. His debut solo recording comprising works by William Alwyn (Chandos) was described as ‘impeccably stylish’ by BBC Music Magazine.

Maya Koch ~ violin

Born of German-Japanese parentage, Maya Koch performs around the world both as soloist and as violinist with the London Conchord Ensemble. Her recording of recital

works by Poulenc, Stravinsky and Milhaud for Orchid Classics received the recital Selection of The Month in Strad Magazine, the review exclaiming ‘this recital disc simply oozes class ... playing with an elegance and natural warmth that is delectable... Bravo!’

She has appeared at venues throughout Europe, Japan and China including London’s Wigmore Hall, Cheltenham Festival, Prussia Cove, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Teatro Olimpico Vicenza, Tsuda Hall Tokyo, and Forbidden City Hall,

Beijing with artists such as Martha Argerich, Ivry Gitlis, and the Schubert Ensemble.

Maya is also the founder of the Lenny Trusler Children’s Foundation (www.LTCF.co.uk) which raises money for sick babies through musical projects.

Thomas Carroll ~ cello

Described by The Strad as a player of ‘authority, passion, with an unerring sense of direction, full of colour and underpinned by a clear musical intelligence’, Welsh cellist Thomas Carroll launched his career when he won both the Young Concert Artists Trust and Young Concert Artists, New York, awards, performing in many major venues across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and America.

He has appeared as concerto soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia, BBC Orchestras, Royal and London Philharmonic as well as orchestras such as the Vienna Chamber, Melbourne Symphony and Bayerische Rundfunk. His passion for contemporary music has led to premieres of works written for him by Michael Berkeley, Joe Dudell, Halli Cauthery and Malcolm Singer. His love of chamber music has resulted in collaborations with Yehudi Menuhin, Gidon Kremer, Ivry Gitlis, Steven Isserlis, Yo-Yo Ma, Heinrich Schiff, Mischa Maisky, Michael Collins, Julian Rachlin and the Belcea, Chilingirian and

Endellion Quartets as well as his regular duo partner Llyr Williams.

Daniel Pailthorpe ~ flute

At the age of 24, Daniel Pailthorpe was appointed Principal Flute of the English National Opera Orchestra, a position he held for ten years. He is currently Co-Principal Flute with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and enjoys a busy freelance career appearing frequently as guest principal with many orchestras, in particular the London Symphony Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He is a founder member of the

London Conchord Ensemble with which he has recorded solo and chamber works by Poulenc, Bach and George Crumb on the ASV, Champs Hill and Black Box labels.

As a student he was awarded the Leonard Bernstein Fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center, USA and made his London solo debut in the Park Lane Group Young Artists’ Series. He is a Professor at the Royal College of Music and is a keen advocate of the modern wooden flute.

Emily Pailthorpe ~ oboe

Oboist Emily Pailthorpe’s career was launched at the age of 17 when she
became the youngest artist ever to win the Fernand Gillet International Oboe
Competition. Hailed by the judges as “the Jacqueline du Pré of the oboe”,
Emily went on to make her acclaimed concerto debut in 2003, playing the
Strauss Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra. In addition to her
performances as soloist and chamber musician she appears regularly as guest
principal oboe with many orchestras, notably the Philharmonia, the London
Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Northern Sinfonia, the Baltimore Symphony, the
Dallas Opera, Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini, and English National Opera. She is also a sought-after session player and features on the soundtracks of many films, most recently Jane Eyre and Harry Potter. Emily can be heard regularly on American National Public Radio, Classic FM, BBC Radio 3, and she was featured as a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. She is the oboist and a founder member of the London Conchord Ensemble.

Her playing has inspired many composers to write for her, most recently Paul Patterson, who dedicated his Phoenix Concerto to her in 2009. Emily plays on an oboe by Howarth of London, and her award-winning recordings include a concerto CD with the English Chamber Orchestra including Vaughan-Williams, Patterson and Howells; Bach concerti; and chamber music of Loeffler, Thuille, Balakirev, Ravel, and Dutilleux.

Maximiliano Martin ~ clarinet

Principal Clarinet of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and winner of the Young Artists Platform in 2002, Maximiliano Martin has performed at the Wigmore Hall London, Queen’s Hall Edinburgh, Palau de la Musica Barcelona and Teatro

Monumental in Madrid. As a soloist he has performed with orchestras such as SCO, EUCO and OST under the baton of Bruggen, Manze and Swensen. Chamber music collaborations include Pekka Kuusisto, Bourgue, Zacharias, London Winds and the Doric String Quartet. He is regular guest principal with orchestras such as the LSO and COE he has worked with conductors including Abbado, Haitink and Mackerras.

Martin has recorded his debut album Fantasia; the Mozart Clarinet Concerto; Messiaen Quartet for the End of Times; and his new album Vibraciones del Alma for Linn Records. He teaches at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and is one of the Artistic Directors of the Festival de Camara Villa de La Orotava held every year in his home town in Tenerife. He joined the London Conchord Ensemble in 2009.

Nicholas Korth ~ horn

Nicholas Korth studied the horn with Ifor James and later at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany. Following a postgraduate year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, he became a member of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra under Mariss Jansons in 1993. He was appointed principal horn of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in 1997, and co- principal of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2000. He is also principal of the English Sinfonia.

Alongside these posts, Nicholas appears frequently as guest principal with many orchestras including the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philharmonia. He has also performed as soloist with the London Mozart Players and the English Sinfonia.

Nicholas also composes and his music is frequently performed by the London Conchord Ensemble.

Andrea de Flammineis ~ bassoon

Born in Milan, Andrea de Flammineis studied at the city’s Conservatorio di Musica G. Verdi and the Hochschule für Musik, Stuttgart.

From 1987 - 1991 he was a member of the European Community Youth
Orchestra and was appointed principal bassoon of the Orchestra della
Toscana in 1992. During his time in Italy he appeared as soloist with
some of the leading Italian orchestras, including the RAI Symphony Orchestra of Milan and the Orchestra da camera di Padova e del Veneto.

Andrea joined the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House as Principal Bassoon in 1993, and frequently appears as guest principal with other major British orchestras. Andrea is Professor of Bassoon at the Royal College of Music in London.

Barnaby Robson ~ clarinet

Appointed principal clarinet of the Philharmonia orchestra in 2000, Barnaby also performs regularly with London Winds, Belcea Quartet, Thomas Adès, London Conchord Ensemble, Artur Pizarro, Endymion Ensemble and the Philharmonia Orchestra Soloists. Barnaby has recorded chamber repertoire for ASV, BBC and EMI, and broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM.

He has performed the Mozart Clarinet Concerto on both original & modern bassett- clarinet and has recorded Vivaldi wind concerti on period instruments with the Academy of Ancient Music. With the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, he recorded & performed Mozart’s Serenade in B flat for the BBC.

He is professor of modern & early clarinet at the Royal College of Music and has given master classes at all of the UK’s leading conservatories and in Switzerland, Singapore and Australia.

Richard Hosford ~ guest clarinet

Richard Hosford is one of Britain’s outstanding clarinettists. As a founder member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Richard has toured the world, performing as a soloist in the USA, Japan, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the USA with conductors Claudio Abbado, Sir Colin Davis, Michael Tilson Thomas, Sir Roger Norringon, and Paavo Berglund. He has recorded the Mozart and Copland concertos with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Alexander Schneider for ASV. He is Principal Clarinet with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and a leading member of the Gaudier Ensemble, recording many works for strings and wind with them. In 1998 he became a member of the Nash Ensemble with whom he performs and broadcasts regularly.

Philippe Schartz ~ guest trumpet

Born in Luxembourg, Philippe developed an early interest in the trumpet from listening to his father play in the village wind band. A winner of many prizes and awards, he has developed a highly successful career as an orchestral and a chamber musician as well as a soloist. As Principal Trumpet of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, Mahler Chamber

Orchestra and currently the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, he has performed with much critical acclaim under conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink. He has given recitals and performed as a concerto soloist all over Europe, USA and Japan, in addition to recording six solo CDs for Doyen and Chandos. A member of the teaching staff at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Philippe has given masterclasses and workshops at the Royal College of Music, London, Northwestern University, Illinois, and the School of Music and Sonic Arts at Queen’s University Belfast, among others.

Byron Fulcher ~ guest trombone

Byron Fulcher is the principal trombonist of both the Philharmonia Orchestra and London Sinfonietta. He took up the trombone at the age of nine and became National Junior Solo Champion at 12. Subsequent solo performances have included the British premieres of Gyorgy Ranki’s Tales of Father Goose, Marco Stroppa’s From Needles Eye and the world premiere of Dai Fujikura K’s Ocean as well as Berio’s Sequenza V on BBC Radio 3. Byron has twice recorded Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with the Philharmonia under Benjamin Zander and Lorin Maazel. He has appeared at the International Trombone Festival in both Helsinki and Birmingham. A member of London Brass, Byron can also be heard on many film soundtracks including Gladiator and Harry Potter and has been Professor of Trombone at the Royal College of Music since 2004.

Tom Ellis ~ guest guitar

In April 2006, aged just 16, Tom gave the first performance of Stephen Goss’ Frozen Music at the Menuhin Hall. This was followed by its London premiere at the Wigmore Hall and its first commercial recording. He subsequently played Vivaldi’s D major Concerto with the Menuhin School orchestra and, in November 2008, performed Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Songs with soprano Rosalind Plowright at a concert for the Prince’s Trust. Tom joined the Royal College in September 2009, studying with Richard Wright. Since then he has twice been a prize winner in the Ivor Mairants Competition, given a series of solo concerts in Italy and performed in the Cadogan Hall’s ‘RCM Rising Stars’ concert series.


 

 


LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS

For all the sense of joie de vivre to be found in much of the music on this album, there is also an awareness that every joy is fleeting. Francis Poulenc lived most of his life in material comfort, able to purchase a 16th-century mansion in Noizay, Le Grand Coteau, where from 1927 he lived and composed most of this music. Yet there was a price to Poulenc’s happiness. His early acquired wealth was due to both his parents dying when he was in his teens. His mother, an accomplished pianist who shared her love of Mozart as she gave Poulenc his earliest lessons, died when he was 16, and his father, joint owner of the famous manufacturer of industrial chemicals, died when he was 18. Orphaned when so young, Poulenc relied more than most on the approbation and support of his friends, of whom he had many; the death of any friend or colleague hit Poulenc particularly hard, even before 1936 when he rediscovered his Catholic faith following the violent demise of fellow-composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud in a car accident. It seems significant that nearly half of his chamber music works were dedicated not to a specific performer, but to the memory of a recently deceased colleague or public figure.

Yet Poulenc also had a mischievous and irresponsible side, never quite suppressed even late in his career. The critic Claude Rostand recognized this in his famous 1950 description of the composer as “à la fois moine et voyou” (half monk and half lout). Certainly there was nothing monk-like about the teenage Poulenc. In 1917 his composing career started with the premiere of the bizarre Rapsodie nègre: with instrumentation inspired by Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, its title and nonsense verse mischievously reflected the then current fad in Paris for “negro art”. Poulenc further thumbed his nose at the musical establishment by dedicating his “opus one” to the eccentric maverick Erik Satie, whose surreal ballet Parade received its first staging just seven months before the premiere of Rapsodie.

That work caught the attention of no less a composer than Igor Stravinsky, who secured Poulenc his first publisher. No surprise, then, that there’s a strong stylistic similarity between Poulenc’s earliest chamber works and those composed by Stravinsky immediately after World War I. Even so, it does Poulenc less than justice to suggest, as some biographers have, that his Sonata for Two Clarinets and the following Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon merely emulated Stravinsky’s astringent woodwind writing. It is true that Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, with its sinuous woodwind music, had excited Poulenc, but he had also been deeply impressed by Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19 which, he recalled, “stupified me by their conciseness and their chromaticism”. And Pierrot Lunaire had impressed both Poulenc and Stravinsky: thus by the time Stravinsky’s Pribaoutki and Berceuses du chat, both often said to have inspired Poulenc, were premiered in Paris on 20 November 1918, Poulenc had already composed his Sonata for Two Clarinets eight months earlier. Yet Poulenc confessed that this and his early Piano Duet Sonata were “little beginner’s works, rather faltering”, and he later revised those works respectively in 1945 and 1939 to iron out those ‘faltering’ qualities.

Whatever their provenance, both Poulenc’s early duo sonatas in their final form share an infectious sense of fun and virtuosity. His second duo sonata, for Clarinet and Bassoon, was written in 1922 after he had started composition lessons with Charles Koechlin (having previously been essentially self-taught). Poulenc wrote to Koechlin in September reassuring him that “I cannot impress on you enough the extent to which I have benefited from my study with you during the winter, from the point of view of counterpoint as well as harmony.” He added: “My Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon is finished. I am pleased with it. The counterpoint is sometimes quite amusing.”

The Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone, also from 1922, very much shares the cod-courtly style of the brass music for his ballet Les biches. Poulenc dedicated this Sonata to his closest friend from childhood Raymonde Linossier. A lawyer by training and a leading specialist in Orientalism, Linossier was a formidable intellect. She had guided the young Poulenc in poetry and literature, introducing him to Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop where he personally met many of the poets whose work he would set in music including Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Paul Éluard and Louis Aragon.

It was inevitable that Poulenc’s chamber music would eventually involve his own instrument, the piano. In August 1921 he completed a sketch of a Trio for piano, clarinet and cello. Ultimately nothing came of this, except in 1923 he announced he was composing a Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano – instruments of a similar range. In September 1924, even before he had completed it, he told Milhaud his new Trio was “much more important than my other chamber music”. After much interruption by other projects, he eventually completed the Trio in 1926, taking some advice from Stravinsky on some modifications before its publication. As in the brass Sonata, it has something of the mock-civilised manner of Les biches, including the playfully elegant spirit of Mozart.

Even more ambitious was his Sextet for Piano, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Horn, started in 1931. Poulenc had considerable difficulty in finding a satisfactory form for this work; no less than two revised versions were performed before Poulenc completed it to his own satisfaction in 1939. Though on the surface another of Poulenc’s playful works it reveals a new intensity, even seriousness in tone. Possibly this reflects Poulenc’s state of mind following the passing of his childhood friend Linossier, who had died after a brief illness on 30 January 1930. Immediately prior to her burial, Poulenc had consigned the original orchestral manuscript of Les biches between her hands. He subsequently dedicated several works to her memory including his ballet Les animaux modèles.

The Sextet is one of Poulenc’s earliest works to show the influence of several of Prokofiev’s works – notably the scherzo of Piano Concerto No. 2 and the first movement of Piano Sonata No. 2 (ironically the Russian composer, who heard a performance of the second version in 1933, thought the work “worthless”). There are echoes, too, of Poulenc’s own Double Piano Concerto which he had started composing almost concurrently with the Sextet, notably in the more suavely lyrical central section of the first movement.

In a much lighter yet far from frivolous vein is the “Villanelle” composed late in 1934. This was commissioned by the Australian-born Louise Hanson-Dyer, famous for founding Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre, who considered Poulenc “probably the most gifted and brilliant of all the young French composers”. Dyer had asked Poulenc and several of his colleagues to contribute to a volume of pieces for bamboo pipe. This instrument, which once looked set to rival the recorder, was not a mere fad for early music specialists, but was being promoted as part of a European-wide drive to bring music-making back to ordinary people (the British division, The Piper’s Guild, had Ralph Vaughan Williams as its president). As Louise Dyer herself wrote: “All that is needed is a Bamboo a Cork & a pen knife – Every child makes his own instrument & gets his own quality of tone.” She fondly imagined that the bamboo pipe movement would spearhead “a new Scheme of things”: “Everything is moving towards change. Even the tiny children with their smaller pipes shall play their part in ‘The New Order’.” Poulenc’s modest piece perhaps reflects its social purpose and certainly its rustic title with a folk-like opening theme.

Poulenc always felt more at home writing for wind instruments than for strings: “Nothing is further from human breath than the bow-stroke” he once confessed. He made at least four abortive attempts to write a violin sonata before finally completing one in June 1942. Though France was then under Nazi occupation, Poulenc dedicated it to the memory of Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet who had been assassinated during the Spanish Civil War. Poulenc’s Violin Sonata was premiered at the Salle Gaveau by the brilliant young Ginette Neveu on 21 June 1943. The work includes several ravishing passages for the piano, while the violin, after its first essay of lyricism apparently borrowed from Tatiana’s letter scene in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, enjoys a characteristically swooning melody such as might have appeared in Poulenc’s ballet Les animaux modèles. These moments to some extent mitigate the sensation of hearing Poulenc fragmented through an unfamiliar medium. Most of the violin writing – effectively a combination of Stravinsky’s brittle, anti-Romantic manner with the aphoristic style of Debussy’s Violin Sonata (a work Poulenc much admired) – often sounds uncharacteristically stiff and even stilted.

More successful is the “Sonata for Piano and Cello” (as Poulenc carefully titled the work), sketched around the time he was completing his Violin Sonata, but finally completed in 1948 out of “the admiration and affection I had for Pierre Fournier”. Less furrow-browed and more playful in style, it has a readier charm and affords the cello more opportunities to sing than does the soloist in the Violin Sonata, so sounding more characteristic of Poulenc’s muse.

Early in 1956 Poulenc was approached by The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation to write a flute sonata. Having already started such a work in 1952, Poulenc agreed to compose a Flute Sonata “to the memory of Madame Coolidge” for less than his customary fee. Apart from the spur this offered to complete a work already started, Poulenc was perhaps glad of the chance to add this to an already impressive list of masterpieces commissioned by the foundation including string quartets by Bartók, Britten and Prokofiev, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring. The result is one of Poulenc’s most popular works, its highlight being its central slow movement, the wistful Cantilena which Poulenc himself suggested evoked the doomed Sister Constance from his opera Dialogues des Carmélites.

Poulenc composed a more pungent memorial in 1957 – the Elégie for horn, dedicated to the memory of the great English horn player Dennis Brain (who had died in a car accident on 1 September that year). Poulenc performed its premiere early the following year with Neill Sanders, who for seven years had played second horn to Brain in the Philharmonia. Starting with one of Poulenc’s earliest essays in 12-tone serialism (Stravinsky having led the way with his first 12-tone composition in 1954), the work proceeds with a punchy horn motif, terminated with an alarming ‘whoop’; then follows a bleak yet more lyrical central section which looks forward to Poulenc’s final choral work, Sept répons des ténèbres.

While in New York in late 1959 Poulenc conceived a brief Sarabande, a grave piece in a chordal style typical of his choral music, which he dedicated to the French guitarist Ida Presti.

Poulenc’s final two sonatas were both written in memory of departed friends: the Clarinet Sonata (1962) was dedicated to Honegger, while the Oboe Sonata (1962-3) was dedicated to Prokofiev. Ironically there is more of Prokofiev’s style to be found in the Clarinet Sonata, whose ebullient finale in particular recalls that of Prokofiev’s Fourth Piano Sonata, whereas the Oboe Sonata is rich with allusions to the 1940s work of Prokofiev’s rival, Stravinsky, most notably in the first movement’s piano part. Yet the first movement includes a direct quotation from Prokofiev’s score to Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, specifically the shrill oboe motif which features to such sinister effect in “The Song of the Beaver”. Again, as with the horn Elégie, it is the sombre soundworld of Sept répons des ténèbres which is recalled in the Oboe Sonata’s finale, itself the last music Poulenc was to compose.

Just months before his own untimely death, aged 64, Poulenc confessed: “I am a melancholic man... who likes to laugh, as do all sad men.” It seems a fitting epitaph for both the composer and perhaps particularly for this collection of his music, so much of it written both in memory and in celebration of departed friends and colleagues.

Daniel Jaffé


“The ensemble clicks perfectly, the playing seemingly effortless and a regard for precision never stifling the musicians’ natural feeling for life and breath.”

BBC Music Magazine

" The London Conchord Ensemble manifestly relish what Poulenc has to offer, playing with panache, wit and discreet sensitivity in performances that are a constant joy."

Gramophone

"No longeurs on these excellent discs: Poulenc's invention is always sprightly, and the performers are vivified by it; though an outstanding item is the Elegie for Horn and Piano, in memory of Dennis Brain."

Sunday Times

"This is an extremely enjoyable set of Poulenc's chamber music...certainly on of the best around..."

International Record Review

"Above all, these performances show a joyous and intimate involvement with this immensely rewarding music, and I think Poulenc would have approved. "
American Record Guide

Even if you already own one or another Poulenc chamber music collection, this one should definitely be on your to-buy list. 
Fanfare Magazine

   
   

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