POULENC: Oboe Sonata; Flute Sonata; Clarinet Sonata; Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano; Wind Sextet; Villanelle for Piccolo and Piano; Elegy for Horn and Piano – The Iowa Ensemble – MSR Classics MS 1540, 78:14 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

First off, the members of the Iowa Ensemble deserve to be listed: Nicole Esposito (flute), Marc Weiger (oboe), Maurita Murphy Marx (clarinet), Benjamin Coelho (bassoon), Kristin Thelander (horn), and Alan Huckleberry (piano). All were associated with the University of Iowa School of Music, though this CD was recorded in 2006.

I can state right from the start that I would rank this CD at five stars solely for the presence of that incomparable talent, Marc Weiger, who unfortunately was railroaded into suicide several years after this recording was made by some questionable accusations leveled by a female graduate student. U of I had several incidences that year which deprived the university of some formidable teachers. Suffice it to say that slung mud sticks no matter who slings it, and the consequences of a sullied reputation was more than Weiger could bear. He maintained his innocence.

His performances speak volumes. He’s on three of the seven works here, and each is a tour-de-force of impeccable technique and tonal luster; I would not want to be without them as a reminder of what a magnificent player he was. The other performances are no less worthy, especially the brilliant flute work of Nicole Esposito. While I might miss some of the incisive and aggressive expressivity of Karl Leister in the Clarinet Sonata, Maurita Marx does a fine job with it. The Sextet, a major piece and one of the standards of the wind sextet literature, is subtle and beautifully connected in the many moody transitions that make this word such a great listen.

I have two albums of the Poulenc wind music: James Levine with the Berlin Soloists on DGG (maybe the best ever), and the two-CD set on Hyperion from the Nash Ensemble. This one easily joins their ranks,and the terrific engineering by Dave Schall captures the proceedings with elan. An easy recommendation. [That’s my alma mater and I certainly agree…Ed.]

—Steven Ritter