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Poulenc: Complete Chamber Music

Poulenc: Complete Chamber Music

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‘Francis Poulenc is music itself, I know no music more direct, more simply expressed nor which goes so unerringly to its target.’ This praise from Darius Milhaud can be applied to all of Poulenc’s music, but the chamber works represent a lifetime of working with virtuoso friends or following an urgent desire to compose, reflecting the essence of his instantly recognizable and deeply personal style. They range from Poulenc’s youthful creativity as a member of the Groupe des Six, via a rich seam of mature masterpieces, to the sonatas composed as his final works. Acclaim for these recordings can be summed up by the comment: ‘you simply can’t go wrong with any of the discs in this series.’ on their original release


"The common thread on the five discs is the indefatigable Alexandre Tharaud, who is involved in all but six works. There is no sense of staleness in his playing; he is clearly attuned to Poulenc’s mercurial moods. The booklet notes reprise those from the original releases, and provide a perfectly satisfactory level of information. Sound quality is equally good.

So, to the music. Poulenc was famously described as “half monk, half rascal” and it is equally appropriate for much of his music. I don’t think I have heard any other composer whose music so frequently changes mood and tempo within an individual movement. One minute it is madcap and helter-skelter, the next sad and lyrical: think “the Keystone Cops meet Mozart”! If I was to be more musically serious, I would probably reference Stravinsky, but given he is isn’t one of my favourite composers, I will stick with my descriptor. Suffice to say that there is absolutely no point listening to a one-minute sample of this music to get a sense of whether it might be for you. You will need to find a free service that offers whole movements.

Disc 1 opens with the Sextet for piano and wind quintet, and you are thrown straight away into the musical world I have just described. What separates Poulenc from Stravinsky for me is the joyousness and warmth that pervades all of Poulenc’s music[.] You cannot help but smile at the skittering fast music, while the slow music is beautifully tuneful. The Oboe Sonata, one of his last works, is perhaps my favourite. The first and last movements are, somewhat unusually, all slow, flanking a breathless middle movement Scherzando. The Trio, for piano, oboe and bassoon, returns to the fluctuating atmosphere of the sextet, and it is a measurement of Poulenc’s skill that he manages to make the bassoon an equal partner, giving it more to do than just burble (bassoonphiles, please don’t bother writing in to complain). While the flute may not be one of my favourite instruments, Poulenc’s Sonata is a delight from first to last...The Clarinet Sonata is another gem[.]"

--MusicWeb International (David Barker)

Past praise for previoulsy released volumes included in this set:

Poulenc: Sextet / Trio / Oboe Sonata / Flute Sonata

All of the musicians are superb, but several deserve special mention. Alexandre Tharaud plays Poulenc's piano parts with great flair, wit, and a true feeling for the music's manic shifts from raucous high spirits to nostalgia and melancholy. Since all of these works feature the piano, the importance of his contribution can't be overestimated. Laurent Lefèvre's reedy, piercing, truly "French" sounding bassoon is a highlight both of the Sextet and the delicious Trio.

-- (David Hurwitz)

Poulenc: Sonata for Two Pianos / Clarinet Sonatas

Naxos' triumphant march through Poulenc's complete chamber music continues with this latest release containing, among a host of smaller items, a smashing performance of the magnificent Sonata for Two Pianos, one of the composer's greatest large works in any medium. Alexandre Tharaud and Francis Chaplin play beautifully…hypnotically seductive in the slow introduction and third movement, while the faster music has the right rhythmic skittishness and crisp articulation. The other outstanding performance here is the Sonata for horn, trumpet, and trombone. This awkward but charming piece has seldom sounded better balanced and more natural (not to mention in tune), and it's very well recorded in a warm acoustic. The other pieces are trifles, but no less enjoyable for that. Another winner.

-- (David Hurwitz)

Poulenc: Bal Masque (Le) / Rapsodie Negre / Élégie

Many full-priced editions of this music offer far less value, both artistically and with respect to presentation. You simply can't go wrong with any of the discs in this series, and at these prices you can surely afford to collect them all.

-- (David Hurwitz)

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    • UPC/Barcode: 747313525836
    • Item Number: 8505258