Saint-Saëns, Poulenc, Devienne, Milhaud

COMPOSERS: Devienne,Milhaud,Poulenc,Saint-Saens
ALBUM TITLE: French Chamber Music
WORKS: Clarinet works by Saint-Saëns, Poulenc, Devienne & Milhaud
PERFORMER: Sabine Meyer (clarinet), Oleg Maisenberg (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 379 7872


The Clarinet Sonatas by Saint-Saëns and Poulenc are both late works, but they’re very different in feeling: the Saint-Saëns generally relaxed and classical, the Poulenc more excitable, swinging instantly from tender melody to brittle attack. Sabine Meyer brings consummate artistry to both, with beautifully light tonguing in the Scherzo of the Saint-Saëns and a touchingly inward tone for Poulenc’s marking of très doux et mélancolique – yet there’s a wild desperation in the finale of the Poulenc that she’s almost too cultured a player to reveal. Oleg Maisenberg partners her with matching assurance and subtle colouring and pacing. The two also show great teamwork and panache in Milhaud’s Scaramouche, with its irresistible samba finale, though they’re perhaps a little over-polite in an attractive Sonata by Mozart’s French contemporary François Devienne. There are fine performances of the Poulenc and Saint-Saëns by Richard Hosford and Ian Brown (Hyperion), but they’re within Nash Ensemble sets devoted to their respective composers. Janet Hilton and Keith Swallow (Chandos) play both well but in an unhelpful church acoustic; Emma Johnson and Gordon Back (ASV) pull their punches a little. Ronald Van Spaendonck and Alexandre Tharaud (Harmonia Mundi) are lively and imaginative, and they also include Scaramouche in a French 20th-century programme which offers outstanding value for money. But the finesse of Meyer and Maisenberg, in an absolutely firstclass recording, wins the benchmark recommendation. Anthony Burton