Poulenc Sextet for Piano and Woodwind Quintet, Live Performance

This recording is from a live performance of the Sextet for piano and woodwind quintet by French composer Francis Poulenc.

The concert took place June 18 at the First Congregational Church in Columbus Ohio. Building the program around pianist Ahlin Min, I called it Dances and Dreams. The other pieces on the program were Claude Debussy's Premeire Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano, and Igor Stravinsky's Trio version of L'Histoire du Soldat.

The program was billed as a fundraiser for the Columbus Symphony. We raised over 6 thousand dollars.

For those interested, I wrote a 3 part series for musicians planning their own recitals, with lots of good advice and lessons I learned from this experience. You can find those posts in Planning Your Own Recital- in three parts.

It is performed here by the Columbus Symphony Woodwind Quintet; Randy Hester, flute; Steve Secan, oboe; me on clarinet; Betsy Sturdevant, bassoon; and David Urschel, French Horn. The pianist is Ahlin Min, a brilliant master of the instrument, who studied with the world famous pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio, Menahem Pressler.

Poulenc's inventiveness never fails to sound fresh. Although some of his music can sound abrasive at times, this little masterpiece holds together beautifully.

(I have included detailed notes about the music below the recordings of the 3 movements)

Allegro Vivace-

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Divertissement-

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Finale-

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Francis Poulenc, 1899-1963, French composer, was the youngest of a group known in France after World War I as Les Six (the others were Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Tailleferre and Auric). His works include ballets, orchestral works, chamber music, piano music, songs and opera.

The Sextet has earned a place in Poulenc's canon as one of his most popular works, and in the right interpretive hands the work exudes French wit as well as a degree of emotional depth. Poulenc wrote the three-movement work in 1932, scoring it for flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, horn, and piano; he revised it in 1939. The piece offers a mix of elegant, deceptively simple motives, rhythmic vitality, and playful harmonic turns in a virtuosic framework.

In three movements—Allegro Vivace, Divertissement, and Finale.

The first movement opens with a fast, toccata-like statement that is obviously indebted to Stravinsky's neo-Classicism.

The second movement, marked Andantino, begins with an oboe melody that is passed off to other instruments and developed before returning to the oboe at the conclusion. This symmetry is matched by a slow-fast-slow classical structure.

The prestissimo Finale is a modified rondo in which rhythmic and lyrical sections are present in equal measure, with an intense conclusion. The Sextet was first performed in Paris in December 1940.

From a description by Lucy Miller, musicologist:

In this work abounding with Parisian wit, (Poulenc) pays homage to Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1924) but in ways peculiar only to Poulenc. Filled with comic gestures and dissonances that suddenly turn lyrical, the work continuously pulls the listener back and forth between pathos and humor. One senses, in Poulenc, one foot in the salon and one in the grave. . . . The first movement opens with the full` effects of a Parisian traffic jam interrupted by a lament from the oboe . . .

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