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COMPOSERS: Poulenc/Milhaud/Honegger
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Les biches; Le boeuf sur le toit; Pacific 231
PERFORMER: Choeur de l’Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre de Paris/Semyon Bychkov
By 1920 Poulenc, Milhaud and Honegger, like with Durey, Tailleferre and Auric, had gone their separate ways. Poulenc said, ‘A critic baptised us “Les Six” on the model of The Five, the group of Russian composers, but we never had a common aesthetic and our styles were always dissimilar.’ The three most famous of Les Six are represented here in compositions which confirm their individuality.

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Les Biches (1924), written for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, was Poulenc’s first major work. He claimed it had no real plot: ‘As in certain of Watteau’s paintings, there is an atmosphere of wantonness; this is a ballet in which you may see nothing at all, or into which you may read the worst.’ Bychkov’s performance is fresh and vital, with secure orchestral playing and a well integrated chorus in the folksong numbers. He is equally successful in Honegger’s constructivist masterpiece Pacific 231, building a convincing image of the powerful locomotive. But his reading of Milhaud’s surrealist ‘cinéma-symphonie’ Le boeuf sur le toit is disappointing, since the fast sections are driven hard and the languorous slow music therefore feels disconnected. These problems are emphasised by poor orchestral balances, in which the trumpet is always too loud and brash. Terry Barfoot