Notes and Editorial Reviews
Octet. Clarinet Quintet.
MDG 3080300 (56:01)
This recording is celebrating its 25th birthday, having been made in 1987. As far as I can tell, however, it has not been reviewed here before.
Jean Françaix (1912–97) was a curious fellow, not in the sense that there was anything odd or eccentric about him, but in the sense of what Ravel shared with the boy’s parents: “Among the child’s gifts, I
observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity: you must not stifle these precious gifts now or ever, or risk letting this young sensibility wither.”
Listening to Françaix’s music, I sometimes get a giddy feeling that this is what Saint-Saëns would have sounded like on pot. In the main, it’s a confectioner’s soufflé made up of almost everything that was going on in Paris during the early decades of the 20th century. That would include not only Saint-Saëns, Fauré, and Ravel, but Satie, Les Six (especially Poulenc and Honegger), and Stravinsky. If there’s one composer left out of this equation, it’s probably Debussy, whose music doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression on Françaix. All of it is whipped together into a light, frothy airiness that neither takes itself too seriously nor aims for Poulenc’s intentionally vulgar, saucy, sassy character.
If I had to cite one piece of music that defines the term “delightfully dippy,” it would have to be the Scherzando of the Clarinet Quintet. It’s so ridiculous, you can’t help but laugh out loud; and yet, the absurdity of it conceals its cleverness and extremely refined writing. Not everything, however, is of similar character. The very next movement, marked Grave, for example, is one of those melancholic reveries that one hears in some of Poulenc’s slow movements.
Both the octet for clarinet, horn, bassoon, string quartet, and double bass, and the
for bassoon and string quintet seem to be among Françaix’s more popular works with half a dozen overlapping recordings of each listed. ArkivMusic identifies the ensemble on the current recording as the Chiras, but the album’s front, back, and notes say Charis. This exact same program, by the way, with the addition of
L’Heure du berger
, is offered on a more recent Hyperion CD by the estimable Gaudier Ensemble. I have that recording and I’d have to say that while this one is equally well played and recorded, if you have the Hyperion, then duplicating its contents with this MDG CD is probably unnecessary. Otherwise, recommended for an hour of mostly lighthearted, frivolous entertainment.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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