Paul Ladmirault was born in musical surroundings at Nantes, Brittany in 1877. His mother was a singer who encouraged her son's musical leanings to study the piano, violin, and organ. He started composing by the age of eleven and successfully staged his first opera, Gilles de Retz in 1893 when aged 16 whilst a fifth-former at the Nantes secondary school. He was accepted at the Paris Conservatoire in 1895, studying with André Gédalge and later with Gabriel Fauré. His fellow students were Schmitt, Ravel and Enesco, but of them all Fauré thought Ladmirault was the best. Debussy found in him 'a true artist's nature'.
He was an admirer of Ravel yet was disturbed by the direction his music was taking. He wrote:
"As for the new post-war music in the grandiose style,
I don't believe in its advent, and real musicians will always turn
away from it in horror. It will perhaps have a certain success, but
not an artistic success. If we had only that to unearth, Richard Strauss
and even Mahler, it would be appalling. Fortunately we have Schmitt,
Ravel, Roussel, Huré, etc. Germany has only four interesting
modern musicians: R. Strauss, Schoenberg, Humperdinck and Mahler:
I was very keen on the first, understood nothing of the second, the
third enchanted me like a pretty legend, and the fourth amused me
considerably (like some mountain giving birth to a mouse).'
Preferring Schumann to Beethoven, he admitted: 'I love Schumann as well as Wagner whose 'Meistersingers' is so powerfully influential in places… You'd have to be mad to repudiate such masters'
Up to the Great War, the Parisian musical scene benefited from particularly fresh and lively activity in which Ladmirault flourished. Yet he was called up to serve the country for four years.
After the war he distanced himself from Paris shunning its fairground publicity of musicians and, settling down in Brittany, parted from the musical cliques which a centralised musical life enjoys. He was appointed professor at Nantes Conservatoire and a new chapter of his life opened. This modest and independent Breton composer gathered inspiration from his native surroundings and left a vast catalogue of works in which he took pleasure in giving expression to the poetry and sensibility of Brittany and its legends. His friend Schmitt wrote: 'Of all the outstanding musicians of his generation, Paul Ladmirault is perhaps the most talented, the most original and also the most modest.'
In this recording we can judge for ourselves the accuracy or otherwise of Ladmirault's critics. Certainly, the style used in his compositions varied over the years and shows that he moved to a new identity during his career. It may have made good sense to provide the tracks in chronological order rather than start with one of his later works.
En Forêt consists of two pieces, L'Aurore (Dawn) and Les Amants (The Lovers) both of which were inspired by a scene in Lemonnier's novel 'Un Male'. In the first a sunrise gradually makes itself master of the forest.
Of the music Charles Bouvet wrote: 'On the tight weft are embroidered numerous designs and arabesques whose charm holds our attention, strength and admiration. The whole work gives off a highly a poetic, very noble feeling: the entity transposed into music. It is the forest with its smells, its rustlings, and its sacrosanct character of a Gothic nave. That is what Monsieur Paul Ladmirault has revealed to us.' In it one is more aware more of Debussy than of Grieg's Peer Gynt 'Morning' where the horns and woodwind take a dominant role. In the latter one finds the music flowing freely whilst enveloped in a rich polyphony enhanced by colourful instrumentation.
Valse Triste started as a work for two pianos in 1901 and was later orchestrated in 1933. This is a tranquil and rhythmic piece where the orchestral forces integrate with the piano to carry some of the themes. The orchestration is refined, elegant and well crafted. A second subject has an air of melancholy, which gives a change of mood that slowly draws the piece to a close.
For a number of years Ladmirault worked on a lyric drama which was never performed; however the Act 2 Prelude was played at the Société Nationale de Musique and called Brocéliande au Matin. The piece is long for a Prelude and is likely to have been rearranged for concert purposes since it is symphonic in its development. Dominated by a thematic element it contains some charming motifs and interesting material.
In 1925 at the end of the silent era of films Ladmirault wrote the music for a Poirier film, La Brière. The next year he used the material to put together a symphonic poem. Although successfully performed he had doubts and considered that maybe his work sounded too rustic when compared with the more strident compositions of Ravel and Stravinsky. The 2nd movement, La Foire d'Herbignac wakes the tranquil setting of the first movement (Paysage triste) with its jocular folktune rhythm. The 4th movement, the Idylle was encored at the first performance and gave Ladmirault much needed reassurance that his composition was worthy after all. It contains a languid melody with dreamy tenderness and is similar in character to the opening movement. A majestic but uninspired subject with bells for the Légende closes the work.
Nowhere in Ladmirault's compositions are we aware of the influence of Fauré, but occasionally we can recognise fragments which might be mistaken for Debussy.
The orchestra of Brittany plays well under the direction of Sanderling and this disc is nicely presented in an attractive full colour card case in place of the dull and crackable jewel case. The notes, with an interesting assessment on the composer (and how his colleagues rated him), are written in French and English.