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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

LEBRECHT LISTENS | The Les Six Challenge: Can You Name Them All?

By Norman Lebrecht on May 17, 2019

L’Esprit des Six (Claves)

★★★★☆

🎧 iTunes

Your challenge for the weekend: name all six of Les Six.

Poulenc and Milhaud? That’s average.

Arthur Honegger? Good (unless you’re Swiss).

Germaine Tailleferre? Very good.

Georges Auric. Excellent.

So who have we forgotten?

(Louis Durey (1888-1979). Nobody remembers Durey.)

Les Six came to the fore in 1920s Paris as acolytes of the iconoclastic Eric Satie and briefly caught the spirit of the age before veering off in diverse directions. This ingenious album of clarinet-piano music from either end of their careers. Francis Poulenc, the most lyrical and the only one with a major opera to his credit, can be heard in sonatas from 1918, 1922 and 1962, the earliest having an absolute earworm of an Andante, the kind of music people hummed as they went off to found new colonies.

Darius Milhaud, who could write for any instrument at the drop of a hat, had reached opus 100 by his mid-thirties, a Sonatine with a delicious melting centre. Auric, who spent his life writing film scores, contributed a 1971 Imaginées for clarinet and piano. Tailleferre, who lived longest, wrote a 1973 Arabesque. Honegger is represented by a neat Sonatine of 1921-22. And Durey? There’s nothing here by Durey. There never is.

Davide Bandieri, principal clarinet of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, is the driving force here, with pianist Guillaume Hersperger panting to keep up. It’s a fun album that feels almost Twenties in its ésprit. Look up quick and you might see an ox on the roof.

LUDWIG VAN TORONTO

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