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The French Connection
André CAPLET (1879-1925)
Quintette (1898) [27:07]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Divertissement, op. 6 (1905) [6:57]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) (arr. Arie Boers)Six Épigraphes Antiques (1914/1987) [16:37]
Joseph JONGEN (1873-1953)
Rhapsody, op. 70 (1922) [18:03]
The Hexagon Ensemble: Wout van den Berg, flute, Henk Swinnen, oboe, Arno van Houtert, clarinet, Freek Sluijs, bassoon, Christiaan Boers, horn, Hans Eijsackers, piano Rec. Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, Netherlands, no dates given. DDD ETCETERA KTC 1259 [68:20]

With rampant publishing, a conservatory full of virtuoso teachers, an industry of fine instrument makers and a Société dedicated to the cause, the Paris of the middle nineteenth century was the epicenter of all things à vent. As a result, composers French and otherwise flocked to Paris and turned out dozens of works, some masterpieces and some schlock, for combinations of wind instruments. The recital at hand presents some fine examples of chamber works for winds, and the excellence of the performances makes a strong case for the genre.

The program opens with the captivatingly fresh Quintette of André Caplet, a composer who was amongst a group of fine musicians that came of age at the same time or just after Debussy and Ravel, and sadly do not seem to garner the attention they deserve. Caplet was a star of the Paris Conservatoire, and this work was awarded a prestigious prize shortly after it was completed. Caplet went on to defeat Ravel in a competition in 1901. He developed a double career as a conductor and composer, and became close friends with Debussy. He left behind only a small output of music, but these works are refined to a very high degree.

Given its first performance in 1900, the Quintette uses classical structural forms. That it is scored for winds and not strings, however, gives it a completely open and transparent atmosphere, allowing for a melodic clarity that can only be achieved by the diverse timbres of the instruments involved. The Hexagon Ensemble deliver a remarkably transparent performance, exquisitely balanced and with a fine sense of ensemble. This is a work that needs to be heard more often, and listeners are sure to find it a pleasant change of pace from string fare.

The other highlight of the program is the most effective arrangement of Claude Debussy’s Six Épigraphes Antiques, scored originally for piano four-hands, here arranged for flute, horn and piano. These arrangements are completely effective, and make for some very interesting sonorities, unachievable on the piano alone. Played to excellent effect, these moody, evocative pieces are an aural delight.

The two shorter works that round out the program are also excellently rendered, and add color and flavor to an already substantial recital. This is a disc of most refreshing repertoire, and is recommendable as a starting point for listeners unfamiliar with music for winds. There is nothing here that does not delight the ear.

Notes and sound quality are in the same fine vein as the music and performances. Recommended without hesitation.

Kevin Sutton

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