Poulenc Trio & David Shifrin - Notes

Suites No. 1 and 2 Stravinsky

The source material for the Suites is two little-studied sets of Piano duets Stravinsky wrote as "teaching pieces" for young musicians. His leanness of instrumentation, his infectious rhythmic drive and his always perfect instinct for dramatic timing are being demonstrated here. Suite No. 1 is a miniature work comprising an introduction and three national dances, notable for its prominent rhythms and rich coloring. Suite No. 2 is extremely witty and rhythmically varied.

Konzertstück No. 2 in D minor for clarinet, bassoon and piano, op.114 Mendelssohn

In 1831, while in Munich, Mendelssohn visited great clarinet virtuoso Heinrich Bärmann and his two clarinet-playing sons, and arranged a Beethoven String Quartet for them to play at their musical party. It was so successful that he was inspired to write two Konzertstücke for clarinet, basset horn, and piano for his hosts, Op. 113 and 114. Both works require a masterly technique that serves as testimony to the highly developed skills of the Bärmanns. The opening Presto is the most dramatic of the movements; the Andante is animated by an incessant, wide-ranging broken-chord accompaniment; and the closing Allegro grazioso is a scintillating showpiece.

Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano Françaix

Jean Françaix exploited the characteristics of wind instruments to great effect. He believed music should give listeners pleasure, and this Trio, like his other compositions, is marked by a mixture of lightness, quirkiness and exuberance that is immediately appealing to players and audiences alike. Three of the movements are packed with rhythmic and textural detail and make virtuosic demands on all three instruments. But the third is a nostalgic Andante which has long cantabile melodies for oboe and bassoon. The concluding bars include a humorous quotation of "God Save the Queen", a reference to British bassoonist William Waterhouse, this work's dedicatee.

Divertimento No. 4, in B-flat major, K.439b Mozart

Early in the 19th century, a set of six little divertimenti attributed to Mozart appeared in versions for various combinations of string or wind instruments and even as piano sonatas. While the manuscript was never found, there is no doubt that they were at first intended for woodwinds. They were probably written in 1783 when Mozart was teaching Gottfried and Fanziska van Jacquin, son and daughter of a distinguished botanist of the time, who joined him in a close musical circle that also included the famous clarinetists, the Stadler brothers. Similar to Mozart's large-scale serenades and divertimenti, they are party music, yet actually not written to entertain guests at grand galas, but to amuse Mozart and his friends. The sequence of the tiny movements mirrors that of his bigger works: an opening Allegro followed by a slow Larghetto, a Minuet, an Adagio, and a final Allegretto.

Sonata for Clarinet & Bassoon Poulenc

This “Très” little piece lasts seven to eight minutes, and its fast-slow-fast plan harkens back to the sonatas of the Baroque. Yet the “angular” melodic contour reveals the composer’s admiration for Stravinsky. “My four favorite composers, my only masters, are Bach, Mozart, Satie and Stravinsky”, Poulenc once said. This sonata was one of a series of works composed between 1921 and 1925, using various combinations of wind instruments. In composing the works, Poulenc’s aim was to hone his compositional as well as contrapuntal skills. He did write: "My Clarinet and Bassoon Sonata is finished. I'm pleased with it. The counterpoint is sometimes quite amusing".

Fantaisie Concertante on Themes from Semiramide Rossini

This “Concert-Fantasy”, based on tunes from Rossini’s last Italian opera, Semiramide, is from a collection of delightful opera-inspired arrangements dating from 19th century Paris and the salon music of that time. It contains works by the two opera composers Rossini and Donizetti, favorites of the Parisian audiences, in arrangements by the oboe and bassoon virtuosi (and Conservatoire professors) of the day Charles Triébert, Henri Brod and Eugène Jancourt. These works were not only “tuneful” but enabled the performers to show their ample virtuosity very well. Semiramide, based on Voltaire's tragedy "Semiramis", itself then based on the legend of Queen Semiramis of Babylon, has been said to be "the last opera of the great Baroque tradition: the most beautiful, the most imaginative, possibly the most complete; but also, irremediably, the last".