Poulenc: Chamber Music (complete)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Poulenc
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Chamber Music (complete)
PERFORMER: Nash Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67255-56
Several generations of the Nash Ensemble have presented their distinctive Poulenc à l’anglaise – most recently for a centenary survey, at the same time recording a set which will surely and deservedly be popular. The performances are English in a positive sense, in their moods of relaxed relish and their polished timbre, especially from the wind players, and in their intimate understanding of ensemble give-and-take. Sometimes Gallic flair and passion and colour go along with being a bunch of competing individualists. Here the anchorman, pianist Ian Brown, is acutely responsive to the players’ characters, from suave oboe to more biting violin. Only the piano-free sonata for brass gets out of hand, laboriously joky despite its technical brilliance.

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High points are often slow movements: eloquent in the relatively neglected Cello Sonata, firmly projected in the Clarinet Sonata, powerful and forthright in the deliberately awkward lines of the Élégie for horn. Craig Ogden releases the poised, rarely heard Sarabande for the second time in a year (another performance is on his Guitar Meditations album). Maybe the quick music in the Sextet and Trio is a shade too lightweight to catch the edgier side of Poulenc’s gaiety, but the enjoyment is easy to share. Robert Maycock