Gallic musical entertainment chez L’Alliance Française

Wellington Trio d’Anches (Calvin Scott – oboe, Mary Scott – clarinet, Penny Miles – bassoon)

Helga Warner-Buhlmann: Tango
Marin Marais: Deux danses françaises
Mozart: Divertimento No 2, K 439b
Auric: Trio d’anches (1948)
Milhaud: Suite d’après Corrette
Schulhoff: Divertissement für oboe, klarinette und fagot
Michael Burns: E toru nga hau
Auric: Moulin Rouge
Jules Oudot – trad.: ‘Auprès de ma blonde’/‘La ronde des microbes de la Seine’
Piaf: La vie en rose
Offenbach: Galop infernal (from Orphée aux enfers)

Alliance Française, 78 Victoria Street, Wellington

Friday 14 August, 6pm

From time to time the various foreign embassies and their affiliates present concerts of their music and/or by their musicians. There was a musically inclined Italian ambassador a few years ago who arranged for special recitals by visiting musicians from her country; for a few years the Japanese Embassy presented recitals by fine Japanese musicians; a variety of interesting musical and other arts presentations have been staged by the Brazilian Embassy; and there have been a number of others. Both the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institute invest considerable resources in the promotion of the cultures of their countries.

This small recital, small in the sense of comprising mainly small-scale and lightish music, was played by three Wellington musicians, familiar in other contexts. They called themselves Trio d’anches (trio of reed instruments), after a famous 1920s group, also oboe, clarinet and bassoon, of that name in Paris. Not all of it French: it began with a Tango by a German bassoonist, Helga Warner-Buhlmann, which acted as a sort of warm-up and was perhaps the least-well integrated piece, sonically, in the programme.

And one of Mozart’s Divertimentos, originally for three basset horns (low clarinets). They appear in the Köchel catalogue as “Five Divertimentos (25 pieces) for three basset horns in B-flat major, K. 439b (Anh. 229) (1783)”. The basset horn has a slightly lower extension than the basset clarinet (which itself is a major third lower than the normal clarinet) which was the instrument for which Mozart, inspired by Anton Stadler, wrote his Clarinet Trio, Quintet and Concerto. Not to be confused with the bass clarinet which is a full octave lower than the normal B flat clarinet.

Mary Scott managed the clarinet part well enough on the normal B flat clarinet (she must have been relieved at not having to play three instruments at once).

The divertimento was of course an arrangement for these three instruments and sounded happy enough as a result, even though the oboe, in particular, had some very high notes. It had five short, and fairly slight, movements, and was an engaging occasional piece.

Marin Marais, of the film Tous les matins du monde fame, was represented in a couple of good-humoured dances, the first in swinging, triple time, the second a sort of horn-pipe in which all three players sounded greatly at ease.

Two members of the non-group Les Six (after all they never really established a manifesto or common aesthetic or set of musical principles and went their separate ways soon after being christened Les Six by Henri Collet) were present in spirit. They and others were often found in groupings of various kinds during the following years. The two this evening were Milhaud (the most prolific and perhaps most important) and Auric (who became a significant film music composer).

Many composers wrote music for the group’s famous predecessor Trio d’anches de Paris. Among them were participants in this recital, Auric, Milhaud and Erwin Schulhoff. Auric’s two pieces were the first part of his Trio d’anches and an arrangement of the music for the much later film, Moulin Rouge. The first was a jaunty piece aptly entitled décidé; the second, the popular tune from the film. Milhaud’s was inspired by music of Michel Corrette, a prolific 18th century composer: six short, witty movements played with such vivacité. Schulhoff, a Czech Jew who died in a concentration camp in 1942 (of tuberculosis) contributed a Divertissement for these instruments. These were among the most interesting pieces in the concert: danceable, original, full of character. Michael Burns is a Manawatu musician, Victoria University educated, who now teaches bassoon at the University of North Carolina. They played his little weather sketch called E toru nga hau (The three winds).

Calvin Scott then introduced us to a satirical version of the well-known folk song, Auprès de ma blonde, which originated during France’s war with the Netherlands: the alternative title is Le prisonnier de
which afforded Scott a pungent current political aside (Socialist Hollande in bed with Right-wing Merkel, ou à l’envers?). The tour de siècle version is called Ronde des Microbes de la Seine
deploring the filthy state of the river in the 19th century.

Downhill from there: Michel Legrand’s Les parapluies de Cherbourg, Edith Piaf’s (without the essential
Piaf) La vie en rose and the Galop, or cancan, from Orpheus in the Underworld.  With French cheese and wines, an hour and a half profitably frittered away.