Complete Chamber Music, volume 5
The Story of Babar, the little elephant (in French)
L'Invitation au Château - incidental music
Léocadia - incidental music
The Story of Babar, the little elephant (in English)
Alexandre Tharaud (piano)
Recordings made between October 1995 and October 1997
If, like me, you are addicted to the uniquely marvellous musical world of
Francis Poulenc, you should rush out at once and purchase this delightful
disc. Before hearing the disc I was puzzled by the inclusion of two versions
of The Story of Babar, but in the event the comparison between the
two proved fascinating. In the French version, the narrator is 12-year-old
François Mouzaya. He is more forceful than the more laid-back Natasha
Emerson (aged 13) in the English version, but both approaches work well
(interestingly, the English version takes slightly longer than the French).
No twentieth century composer wrote more ingratiating piano music than did
Poulenc, and Alexandre Tharaud explores it with great relish and style.
He also excels in the two suites of incidental music, here recorded for the
first time. Poulenc wrote much music for the theatre and the fantastic, not
to say absurd, plots of L'Invitation au Château and
Léocadia, two plays by Jean Anouilh dating from the 1940, were
ideally suited to the composer's blend of mischief and melancholy.
L'Invitation is scored for piano, violin and clarinet; in
Léocadia these instruments are joined by bassoon and double
bass and, in one number, the voice of Danielle Darrieux. Most of the pieces
are brief, sparkling miniatures (some timed in seconds rather than minutes).
Most memorable is the richly varied selection of waltzes, beside which Johann
Strauss comes over as a veritable carthorse. And only Poulenc could have
made so much of his tiny and, especially in Léocadia, unusual
combination of instruments.
Though the piano sound is a rather forward for my taste, I cannot recommend
this disc too highly.