Les Vents Français: Marvelously “Moderniste”

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Writing chamber music for mixed winds with or without piano always seems to bring out the best in composers. Darius Milhaud’s busy bitonal style operates at full capacity in his four-movement Sonata; André Jolivet’s Serenade features an austere first movement followed by a second movement abounding with scurrying arpeggios and a lyrical central section where the solo oboe’s flights of fancy take center stage. Just why Albéric Magnard marked the first movement of his Quintet “Sombre” is a mystery, because the fluid chromatic textures and contrapuntal episodes couldn’t be more vibrant and forward moving. The tunefully tender second movement showcases a formidable piano solo midway, yet the finale’s extensive march-like passages go on too long for what they have to say.

Philippe Hersant’s Osterlied takes its cue from a Lutheran hymn as it veers off into a variety of scenarios, from stark and texturally alluring gestures to rather uninteresting and dry counterpoint. By contrast, Thierry Escaich’s Mecanic Song pursues a more single-minded, rigorous agenda in a set of variations whose substance and architectural integrity reveal themselves over repeated hearings.

Nielsen’s relatively familiar Wind Quintet receives a polished and finely honed performance. The musicians bring suaver ensemble blend and slightly faster pacing to the first two movements in comparison to the stronger individual profile heard in flutist Emmanuel Pahud’s earlier Warner Classics recording released in 2007, coupled with the same composer’s Flute Concerto and Clarinet Concerto. You won’t hear the final movement’s second-variation duet between the horn and bassoon dispatched this smoothly, nor the third variation’s flute and oboe flourishes so effortlessly tag-teamed. Yet some listeners may prefer the earlier recording’s wider timbral diversity and dynamic contrasts.

Overall, Les Vents Français and Eric Le Sage continue to collaborate at the highest level, serving up stimulating programs of mixed woodwind works. This two-CD collection is on par with their previous four Warner Classics releases, and equally recommendable.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Moderniste
Reference Recording: None for this collection

DARIUS MILHAUD: Sonata Op. 47 for flute, oboe, clarinet, & piano
ANDRÉ JOLIVET: Serenade for wind quintet with principal oboe
ALBÉRIC MAGNARD: Quintet Op. 8 for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, & piano
PHILIPPE HERSANT: Osterlied for wind quintet & piano
CARL NIELSEN: Wind Quintet Op. 43
THIERRY ESCAICH: Mecanic Song for wind quintet & piano

  • Eric Le Sage (piano)
  • Les Vents Français

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