TAILLEFERRE: Concerto Grosso for 2 pianos, 8 voices, 4 saxophones and orchestra. SNYDER: Double for 2 pianos and orchestra. POULENC: Concerto in D minor for 2 pianos and orchestra
Mark Clinton & Nicole Narboni, pianists; XAS Ensemble; solo voice octet; Orchestre du Conservatoire du Centre de Paris/Bruno Poindefert, cond.
Élan Recordings 82298 (F) (DDD) TT: 53:04

This is a sequel to Élan's 1997 CD of music for two pianos by Germaine Tailleferre, the lone woman in the postwar-1, Paris-based Les Six, who proved to be the longest-lived of all: 1892-1983. Again the players are the Clinton-Narboni Duo, based since 1995 at the University of Nebraska/Lincoln. Their "cause" is the late Tailleferre, whom even the French have neglected. Alongside Milhaud and Honegger (classmates at the Conservatoire) and Poulenc (youngest of The Six promoted by Jean Cocteau), she coexisted but never stood out. Even Georges Auric achieved a bigger reputation, but of course he was male in a nation of cochons sexuels, while Louis Durey faded into obscurity early on. Tailleferre was game, however, and not without wiles -- in witness whereof this middle-of-the-road-neo-Classical concerto, tidily constructed in three movements. The unexpected voices are wordless, although she incorporated "a Persian folksong," while the saxophones are saxophonous. You remember textures rather than thematic materials, even after a second and third listening, yet the work has a piquant charm, like a friendly poodle. Pierre Monteux commissioned it following the success of her Ouverture pour orchestre at one of his Paris concerts in 1932, and conducted the only public performance on May 3, 1934.

I was more taken, however, with Randall Snyder's Doubles, conceived as a study in pairs and opposites," composed especially for this recording by a UNeb colleague of Clinton and Narboni. It is cast in two movements, Episodes and Schubertpath (the latter based on an 1827 choral work, not the song likewise titled). It is no more substantial than the Tailleferre concerto, but listens easily without sounding simplistic or jingoistic.

The Poulenc in a class of its own, apart and saucily famous, is played by Élan's featured duo with a feathery touch that would bewilder the fans of those comely key-punchers, les soeurs Labéque. What it needs, however, is livelier conducting of a better orchestra than willing students at the "other" Conservatoire, recorded in Paris' reply to Studio 8-H at Rockefeller Center, during the asbestos-lined era of Toscanini and the NBC Orchestra. You want a glass of water halfway through, and by the end you know what an oasis means to a camel.