An attractive and neglected area of 20th-century repertoire gets its due on this album that toasts French composers and their delightful wind trios. On its second outing for Cedille Records, The Chicago Chamber Musicians — in this instance, a subset comprising oboist Michael Henoch, clarinetist Larry Combs, and bassoonist William Buchman — perform eight sparkling wind trios composed expressly for that instrumentation in the 1930s and 1940s by Paul Pierné (not his better-known cousin, Gabriel), Canteloube, Ibert, Milhaud, Tansman, Auric, and Françaix.
"The airy delicacies on this new CD exude traditional Gallic spirit: clear textures, brilliant colors, and sparkling wit," says producer James Ginsburg.
Oboist Henoch observes that the public rarely has the chance to hear this music beyond conservatory recital halls and chamber music classes, although a larger wind ensemble will sometimes program a trio into a concert for contrast and variety. Moreover, the performers on this album are all principal or assistant principal players in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Henoch observes that the French have long held a special affection for wind music and continue to manufacture the world’s finest oboes and clarinets. Many noted, modern French composers wrote for the wind trio format. In the CD booklet notes, WFMT’s Andrea Lamoreux attributes the French fondness for woodwinds to a "paramount desire to achieve clarity of sound, expression, and tone color."
Wind trios appealed to iconoclastic young French composers like "Les Six," a group that included Auric and Milhaud. They rebelled against Wagnerian romanticism and French impressionism. They turned for inspiration to provincial folk and dance tunes, late Baroque and early classicism, and the contemporary music hall.
Prix-de-Rome winner Paul Pierné’s pastoral Bucolique variée is a dreamy, wistful piece whose theme increases in complexity with each variation. Joseph Canteloube’s colorful Rustiques, like his songs, bears the imprint of his beloved Auvergne region. Jacques Ibert’s delightful Cinq pièces en trio are sparkling miniatures, with inviting tunes intricately intertwined. Darius Milhaud’s sweetly playful Pastorale, Op. 147, evokes Provence’s sun-soaked Mediterranean landscape, while his more formal Suite d’apr’s Corrette, Op. 161, is a humorously distorted reflection on early 18th-century courtly dance.
Alexandre Tansman’s sophisticated Suite pour Trio d’Anches is arranged in slow-fast-slow-fast movements like a Baroque trio sonata. Georges Auric, a distinguished music critic as well as composer, wrote for ballet and film. The dancing, vibrantly rhythmic aspect of his style is apparent in the first movement of his sly, mischievous Trio. Jean Françaix is the "youngest" of the composers here and the only one still living. His warm, inviting, Divertissement is a four-movement, three-sided conversation that reaches a light-hearted, virtuosic conclusion.