Poulenc: La Bal Masqué, Trio, Le Bestiaire & Sextet
A review following their appearance at last year’s Edinburgh Festival asked “Is there a better-equipped, more polished, stylish, or characterful chamber music group than the Nash Ensemble anywhere on the planet?”. This very welcome re-issue reminds us that if the Nash Ensemble is impressive today, that is nothing to what it was back in the 1980s when it made a series of recordings of repertory which few ensembles and even fewer record companies had so far chosen to tackle. I would not suggest that the 1980s were the heyday of an ensemble which, over half a century on from its first public appearance back in 1964 is still one of the finest champions of what we might describe as the more challenging of the extended chamber repertory, but certainly those were times when the CD, being in its infancy, was exploiting its potential to convey the intimacy of the chamber idiom through its immediacy of sound. With its wonderful versatility and polished finesse, the Nash Ensemble found a niche which brought it to a wide public through recordings such as this CRD disc of Poulenc, first released 30 years ago.
All four works on this disc pre-date the major stylistic change which came over Poulenc’s music following the horrific death of a friend and the re-discovery of his Catholic faith in 1935, and humour and lightness of touch, juxtaposed with passages of cloying sentimentality are the hallmarks of the two purely instrumental works here; the Trio of 1926 and the Sextet of 1932. Both are for piano and wind instruments; the piano, being Poulenc’s own instrument, naturally getting the lion’s share of the material, and always superbly handled by the Nash Ensemble’s brilliant pianist, Ian Brown. Beautifully balanced and detailed – full praise must go to the impressively light and delicate tone John Pigneguy achieves in the athletic horn romps of the Sextet’s first movement - these are still performances which stand comparison with anything that has emerged over the last 30 years.