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Milhaud: Suite, Scaramouche, Violin Sonata No 2 / Fessard, Pelassy, Reyes

Milhaud / Reyes / Pelassy / Fessard
Release Date: 09/28/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572278   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Darius Milhaud
Performer:  Jean-Marc FessardEliane ReyesFrédéric Pelassy
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MILHAUD Suite for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano, op. 157b 1,2. Scaramouche 1. Violin Sonata No. 2, op. 40 2. Clarinet Sonatina 1. Le Printemps 2. Cinema Fantasy on Le Bśuf sur la toit, op. 58b 2 Read more Elaine Reyes (pn); 1 Jean-Marc Fessard (cl); 2 Frédéric Pélassy (vn) NAXOS 8572278 (67:57)

What is it, exactly, about French music of the teens, 20s, and early 30s that makes it so wonderful, so enjoyable? Is it because of the lively rhythms, the bright sonorities, the general joie de vivre? All of that, yes, plus a willingness not to take one’s self or the music too terribly seriously. There’s always a tongue-in-cheek wryness to the music of Satie, Dukas, Auric, Poulenc, and Milhaud that escapes their more serious-minded Russian and German brethren. Yes, they meant what they wrote—Milhaud stated many times that Le Bśuf sur le toit was not a joke, but his honest reaction to Brazilian bands—but the uncanny accuracy of their replications always lent a somewhat bent air to the proceedings.

These marvelous examples of early Milhaud are no exception. Only the French would dare exploit two such bright instruments as the clarinet and violin together, playing in their high ranges where the combined sound is more piercing still. The joyous, quirky suite for these two instruments plus piano is a reduction of his 1936 incidental music for Jean Anouilh’s play Le Voyageur sans bagages. Latin-American rhythms abound to give the work a light and happy feeling, and these performers capture that mood perfectly. The first and third movements of Scaramouche derive from the incidental music Milhaud wrote for a revival of Molière’s Le Médecin Volant in 1937. The lead instrument is, optionally, clarinet or alto saxophone. As well as Jean-Marc Fessard plays it on clarinet, I’d love to hear the alto sax version.

With the second violin sonata, we jump 20 years back in time to 1917. This is more “serious” Milhaud, but still light and airy in his use of space, keeping the violin muted throughout and, in the fast movements (marked, as was Milhaud’s wont, vif , which is a French word encompassing all of the following: alive, brisk, spirited, animated, meddlesome, ardent, eager, and keen), showing remarkable contrapuntal and harmonic ingenuity. Frédéric Pélassy, particularly in the first and third movements, plays certain passages here with a tight, minimal vibrato, some sustained high notes sounding to my ears vibratoless. This is in keeping with the French violin school of the era, which did not adopt a continuous vibrato until the 1930s. The third movement (Lent) is almost Debussy-like in its quietude and serenity. The second and final Vif is meddlesome and quarrelsome indeed.

We hear an entirely different Milhaud in the 1927 Clarinet Sonatina, featuring harsh polytonality that includes minor ninths and augmented fourths. The first movement is particularly complex, using quirky descending motives rather freely; yet, even here, a spirit of lightness imbues this work. Stravinsky would have made something far more serious of the same material. The second movement, by contrast, returns to Milhaud’s tender, dreamy side before the last movement thrusts us, again, into a more thorny discourse, using the descending motif of the opening in multiple variations.

The very brief Le Printemps (1914), the earliest work on this CD, returns us to atmospheric tranquility, while the violin-piano version of Le Bśuf sur la toit is not merely a reduction of the orchestral ballet score, but rather a reduction of his original concept of the piece as a violin concerto. (After first writing the orchestral version, Milhaud wanted to send the score to Charlie Chaplin to use in one of his films, but Jean Cocteau talked him into making it a French ballet instead.) As this is the most familiar piece on the CD (albeit not in this version), the music needs less description or comment, except to say that Pélassy and Elaine Reyes play it very well indeed, capturing the work’s wry humor if somewhat underplaying its Latin energy. The little melody played just before the five-minute mark has the most Chaplinesque quality.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano by Darius Milhaud
Performer:  Jean-Marc Fessard (Clarinet), Eliane Reyes (Piano), Frédéric Pelassy (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; France 
Scaramouche, Op. 165b by Darius Milhaud
Performer:  Jean-Marc Fessard (Clarinet), Eliane Reyes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; France 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2, Op. 40 by Darius Milhaud
Performer:  Frédéric Pelassy (Violin), Eliane Reyes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1917; France 
Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 100 by Darius Milhaud
Performer:  Frédéric Pelassy (Violin), Eliane Reyes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927; France 
Le printemps for Violin and Piano, Op. 18 by Darius Milhaud
Performer:  Frédéric Pelassy (Violin), Eliane Reyes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914; France 
Cinéma-fantaisie sur "Le boeuf sur le toit" for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 58b by Darius Milhaud
Performer:  Frédéric Pelassy (Violin), Eliane Reyes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; Paris, France 

Sound Samples

Suite, Op. 157b: I. Ouverture
Suite, Op. 157b: II. Divertissement
Suite, Op. 157b: III. Jeu
Suite, Op. 157b: IV. Introduction et Final
Scaramouche, Op. 165d (version for clarinet and piano): I. Vif
Scaramouche, Op. 165d (version for clarinet and piano): II. Modere
Scaramouche, Op. 165d (version for clarinet and piano): III. Brazileira
Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 40: I. Pastoral
Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 40: II. Vif
Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 40: III. Lent
Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 40: IV. Tres vif
Clarinet Sonatina, Op. 100: I. Tres rude
Clarinet Sonatina, Op. 100: II. Lent
Clarinet Sonatina, Op. 100: III. Tres rude
Le printemps, Op. 18
Cinema-Fantaisie d'apres Le Boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58b

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