Several releases concentrate on the chamber music for wind ensembles. On Chandos 6536 the Athena Ensemble plays the wonderful wind quintet La cheminée du roi René (1939), a sun-drenched Provençale reverie. The closing “Madrigal-Nocturne” is one of the most unashamedly pretty things written in the twentieth century (though the Athena plays it a shade too slow). There is also the Suite d’après Corrette (1937), a romp through the rococo, the Divertissement (1958) in his more modern style, the jaunty Pastorale (1935), and two of the nostalgic 4 esquisses (1941). The London Wind Trio also performs the Suite d’après Corrette and the Pastorale on their new disc “20th Century Music for Wind Trio,” (Masters MCD 38) along with pieces by Ibert, Poulenc, Villa-Lobos and Henri Tomasi. And the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet plays La cheminée du roi René on their new collection entitled “Printemps,” (Bis CD 536) together with works of Ibert, Tomasi, Charles Koechlin, Jean Françaix and Eugène Bozza. Both the London and Berlin groups are superior to the Athena in ability and interpretation, and the non-Milhaud pieces on both sets are highly rewarding. There is an unexciting performance of La cheminée by a Czech wind quintet on Praga 250 013, although they do the last movement nicely. Still another rendition of La cheminée, by the Pro Arte Wind Quintet, Zurich, is available on their disc “French Wind Music” (Nimbus NI 5327, recorded 1981), together with works by Ibert, Françaix, Auric and Honegger. Pro Arte’s interpretation of the Milhaud is curiously uninflected, really too offhand and monotonous to be recommended to anyone but clock collectors. And a final rendition of the Suite d’après Corrette on Praga 250 008, recorded by a Czech trio in 1969, is not the best thing on that interesting disc.
Milhaud wrote a lovely Sonatina for Flute and Piano (1922), the first movement of which is mysterious, almost haunted, the second jazzy, the last strong, open, direct. There is a good recording on Arion 68195, with Kurt Redel and Noël Lee, and a better one on Praga 250 007, with Josef Jelínek and Emil Leichner, dating from 1978. The companion volume, Praga 250 008, has a good performance of the Sonatina for Oboe and Piano (1954), played by Jan Adamus and Stanislav Bogunia in 1979. On “French Clarinet Art” (Denon 81757 9282 2, recorded 1991) Paul Meyer and Eric Le Sage play the Sonatina (1927), Duo concertante (1956), and Caprice (1954), all in lively and enjoyable performances. The disc also includes works by Saint-Saëns, Chausson, Debussy, Poulenc and Honegger. The Petit concert, Opus 192 (1938), Sonatina, Caprice and Duo concertante are all included on the Trio Bellerive disc mentioned above. Most of these overlap with the “French Clarinet Art” disc, which is less controlled but more virtuosic and vital.