Collection: French Chamber Music for Woodwinds

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy & Saint-Saëns
WORKS: Vol. 1: Debussy & Saint-Saëns
PERFORMER: William Bennett (flute), James Campbell (clarinet), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Rachel Gough (bassoon), etc
CATALOGUE NO: CACD 1017/1018 DDD (2 discs each, 2 for the price of 1)


These four discs include several premiere recordings, among them the cor anglais version of Debussy’s Rapsodie (heard here alongside its original version for alto saxophone) and Poulenc’s unpublished incidental music to Jean Anouilh’s L’invitation au château, which, consisting of 19 vignettes, the shortest playing for a mere seven seconds, really needs the play to give it point. There are arrangements of piano pieces (Poulenc’s chamber version of his Mouvements perpétuels and Bozza’s of Debussy’s Le petit nègre) and there’s plenty of variety of form, texture and timbre in a programme imaginatively planned to offer the best sequence of styles and instrumental groupings, which run from a solo flute to an ensemble of nine.


Debussy’s experimental sound-world encompasses the Sonata for flute, viola and harp, given here with a sure appreciation of its varying tints and hues, far removed from the formal symmetry and punctilious craftsmanship of Saint-Saëns. Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro displays his assured technique and strange melancholia, while Poulenc’s approach, sometimes urbane, sometimes acid, with unusual combinations of instruments and the occasional splash of Kurt Weill, is constantly varied. All the woodwind sonatas of Saint-Saëns and Poulenc are here, and all are splendidly played, though the balance, excellent elsewhere, does rather disfavour the bassoon. Long stretches of all these CDs exceed my overall four-star rating. Wadham Sutton