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Various 20th Century French Composers * Poulenc, Koechlin, Milhaud, Auric, Satie   Hexagon Ensemble ARSIS Classis 3980312 [57:57]

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Poulenc: Sextet, Koechlin: Deux Nocturnes, Milhaud: La Chemniee du Roi Renee, Auric: Trio d'Anches, Satie: Ludions, Je te Veux, La Diva de L'Empire.

The Hexagon Ensemble, five wind players and pianist, hail from the Netherlands, where since the band's formation in 1991, they have appeared frequently on stage and radio. This debut CD is envisioned as the first of a long series in which the group will 'play music from all ages.' The follow-up will feature Mozart and Sphor, and more information can be found at

This collection is not quite Les Six, but Auric, Milhaud, Poulenc, and Satie are represented in an appealing survey of early 20th century French chamber music.

Poulenc wrote his Sextet (or the somewhat unfortunate Sextour, as it is on the cover) in 1932, scoring it for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and piano, then completely revising the work in 1939. Unfortunately, the notes do not make it clear which version is recorded here, though the implication seems to be that it is the revised edition. Whatever, it is an enjoyable, elegant and engaging piece, with three movements lasting just over quarter-of-an-hour.

Charles Koechlin is one of the great unknown composers, a unique talent who simply went his own way, writing enormous amounts of fine music and being roundly ignored by the musical establishment in just the same way he ignored musical fashion. His music is refined, often made of simple monophonic lines, and has a translucent beauty at odds with the much of the celebrated music of his time. The Deux Nocturnes are utterly lovely, perfectly formed miniatures, the first for piano and flute, the second adding a horn.

Milhaud's La Chemniee du Roi Renee (The Domains of King Rene) was written in 1939 and is a suite in seven parts celebrating the Count of Provence, Rene d'Anjou and the royal courts of the Middle Ages. Going beyond neo-classicism, Milhaud blends music not at all unlike that found in the Poulenc Sextet with folk pastoral elements to tastefully evoke the France of centuries past. The countryside idyll of 'La Meousinglade' is especially appealing, while 'Joutes sur L'Arc' has a decidedly regal tone and 'Madrigal-Nocturne' has a charming lullaby quality which might evoke memories of Walton's 'French' music in his great score for Olivier's film of Henry V (actually written 5 years later, and also drawning on traditional French themes).

Trio d'Anches (Trio of Tongues) written for oboe, clarinet and bassoon by Georges Auric in 1938, makes great play of the relationship between the musician's tongues and the 'tongues' of the wind instruments. There are hints of the baroque, a Christmas carol and a nod to Stravinsky and Petrouchka in the three short movements, while the whole remains characterfully French.

The soprano Hieke Meppelink, most acclaimed for her contributions to baroque music, joins the Hexagon Ensemble for Satie's short song cycle, Ludions. The five songs are very brief, the longest here lasting 64 seconds, the texts either inconsequential or silly in a sub-Lewis Carroll way, but Kieke Meppelink does a good job of making the pixilated puns appear to be worth setting to music.

'Je te Veux' finds Satie for once seemingly serious with words, this is an ardent love song, performed in an arrangement by Hexagon Ensemble pianist Arie Boers. The concert ends with a cabaret ode to desire, 'La Diva de L'Empire'. Both songs are well characterised and richly sung, these vocal pieces providing an imaginative and distinctive end to what might otherwise have been an enjoyable but less striking programme.

This is an accessible and thoroughly rounded release. The playing is excellent and the instruments clear on a well-defined soundstage. Certainly a disc of particular interest to aficionados of 20th century French music, there is still enough style, panache and playful melody here to enchant all but the most stony-hearted. A most commendable debut release from the Hexagon Ensemble.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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