Frances Poulenc lived from 1899 until 1963 in Paris. No wonder he felt so at ease with the woodwinds! France (especially Paris) was considered the epicenter of woodwind playing during his lifetime. In fact, there were some U.S.conductors during the first half of the 20th century who insisted upon hiring their entire woodwind sections from France, which, of course, meant that le basson français was used instead of the German bassoon which is used in today's American orchestras.
Poulenc described his Sextour as "chamber music of the most straightforward kind: an homage to the wind instruments I have loved from the moment I began composing." The piece is fundamentally light-hearted, but with many sudden mood shifts which were so characteristic of Poulenc's writing- a playful, jaunty phrase is sure to be followed with melancholy. (The music critic Claude Rostard described Poulenc as "part monk, part guttersnipe.")
Poulence used the bassoon in this piece for the jovial as well as the mournful effects. In fact, twice he sends the bassoon out on a solo mission to promote seriousness. The unaccompanied solo in the first movement:
Toward the end of the piece, the same unaccompanied solo morphs a bit and descends into the lower range, with similar phrasing challenges:
Poulenc was a great pianist, and he played the premier of this work himself. The piano definitely takes a leading role in this piece, rather than one of accompaniment, and we were fortunate to work with a pianist of Ms. Min's caliber.
If you'd like to hear our performance, here it is: