> CRAS Orchestral and Piano Music [RB]: Classical Reviews- April 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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JEAN CRAS (1879-1932)


Jean Émile Paul CRAS, rather like Roussel, pursued a naval career. In the case of Cras he rose to the rank of rear-admiral. Initially (musically) self-taught, he came under the wing of Henri Duparc and Alexandre Guilmant. His output is not large - presumably this was down to his naval duties. There are two notable areas not covered by these four Timpani CDs. The lyrical drama Polyphème dates from 1912-14 and orchestrated by 1918 during the years when Cras served as a torpedo-boat officer in the Adriatic. This was premiered in Paris in 1921 and further performances followed in 1923 at the Opéra-Comique. Polyphème sets the words of Albert Samain. The other area not covered is the chamber music. This includes: Cello Sonata, Piano Trio (1907), String Quartet (1909), Piano Quintet (1922), and String Trio.

He was born in Brest on 22 May 1879 and died there on 14 Sept 1932. Cras was a Breton and may loosely be grouped with Joseph Guy-

Ropartz (for how long do we have to wait for recordings of his symphonies?), Louis Aubert (whose Tombeau de Chateaubriand - a sea green glimmering marine-scape - is one of the unsung diadems of the Marco Polo catalogue) and Paul Le Flem (whose four symphonies ought to be recorded as an intégrale).

All three discs are recommended especially for those with an interest in French music of the twentieth century and for those sympathetic to Celtic impressionism and romance.


Journal de Bord (1927) 23 mins
Âmes d'enfants (1918) 18.00

Légende for cello and orchestra (1929) 14.17
Piano Concerto (1931) 29.00

Henri Demarquette (cello) Alain Jacquon (piano) Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Jean-François Antonioli
rec Luxembourg, July/Sept 1996 2CD set TIMPANI 2C2037 CD1 [41.51] CD2 [43.46]


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Journal de Bord (Ship's Log) is in three movements representing the three watches on board ship: I Quart de 8 à minuit; II Quart de minuit à 4; III Quart de 4 à 8. It was written on board 'La Provence' This is a very fine work struck from an imagination (all his own) but cut from the same character-cloth as Uuno Klami's Sea-Pictures (Klami, Finnish though he was, is, in many of his works, amongst the most Gallic-spirited of composers - try also his piano concertos), Bax's Tintagel and Aubert's staggeringly original sea-picture Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand.

Cras's is a bronzen foundry of the waves - at some junctures paralleling La Mer. In the middle movement the moon seems to dance subtly on the waves. The last movement is breezy and up-beat. All in all, a rich effluorescent tapestry like Bax's Spring Fire blended with Dukas's La Péri (in itself an uncannily Baxian piece).

The Âmes d'enfants (Children's Souls) is an attempt to express the spirit of children. The work is dedicated to his three daughters: Isaure, Colette and Monique. The first movement (Pures) is a fervent romantic slow meditation much dominated by the strings and featuring a most memorable theme which reminds me of another which, infuriatingly, I cannot quite place (can anyone help?). The middle movement (Naïves) is light-spirited and playful - sounding like one of Sibelius's Musette movements. The finale (Mystérieuses) winds in with what you can think of as a quicker version of the famous theme from Grieg's Morning (Peer Gynt). Its quiet, contemplative insistence and repetition creates the tranced effect of a shimmering horizon. While the ending, which gathers for a fanfare, is satisfying enough it seems a pity that Cras did not grasp the nettle completely and allow the music to play out in an idyllic sunset of trembling strings. In any event, how typical of a Celt to lay out the movements on a slow-fast-slow basis (remember the Moeran and Delius violin concertos).

It seems that the Légende was not intended to follow the storyline of any particular legend. Rather the plan is to capture the poetic atmosphere of the Breton legends of Charles le Goffic, Anatole be Braz and Gustave Toudouze. Several episodes are quite Baxian; indeed, generally, this piece struck me as a character echo of Arnold Bax's Phantasy for viola and orchestra. It has that same element of folksiness (though thankfully not a hint of the cute or the quaint - neither quality is present in the Bax), a warrior's demeanour, as well as that aspiration towards evanescent beauty. An extremely romantic piece its solidity is quite unimpressionistic in effect.

Grand flourishes by the piano and the answering orchestra (mainly the brass) make up the first gestures of the concerto. The work seems to proceed in 'awkward' idea-blocks. It is quite different from the Légende - at once more arresting and of serious mien yet splendid in an out-flowering of display to be found also in the five Saint-Saens piano concertos. There is a darkly reflective meander of a central movement - a typically Celtic night-scene. The finale's 'call to arms' is in the form of a rapid light-tongued fanfare touched with sea and a pastoral contentment which has not lost sight and sound of the dance. The work, oddly enough, served to call up memories of catchy Portuguese folk dances as in the orchestral music of Joly Braga Santos and Luis de Freitas Branco. If you appreciate Fauré's Ballade for piano and orchestra you will want to hear this excellent work.

As with all three Timpanis the notes are by Michel Fleury who has done so much, through his writings and promotion, to bring about a revival in the fortunes of many French composers - especially the Bretons.


Rob Barnett



Danze (1917) (Track 1-4)
Paysages (1917) (5-6)
Poèmes Intimes (1902-1911) (7-11)
Alain Jacquon (piano)
rec Théâtre de Poissy 16-17 Oct 1995 TIMPANI 1C1033 [68.12]

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Cras's piano music is represented by three multi-movement works.

Danze is four movements. Danze morbida's bell-rung decay and hypnotic intonation takes us towards the Grecian exoticism of Satie's Gnossiènes. Scherzosa is glassily bright while Ténera's lovely lines suggests the Fille Du Cheveux De Lin and is predictive of Khachaturyan's Phrygia adagio - a shimmering line bred with a theme which is almost Edward Macdowell. The Animata is all cut-glass brisk clarity and heart's renewed and bright on a sunny May morning.

Paysages is in two movements: Maritime's exotic small bells take us towards Roussel and return us to the Gnossiènes amid a jangle borne of gamelan and Rachmaninov! Terrestre's nervous pit-pat can be thought of a keyboard counterpart of the Ravel quartet.

Poèmes Intimes. En Islande - a sorrowing sea-song (not a shanty); Preludio a slow ticking Debussian lullaby; Au Fil de l'eau: a torrent of rapid-fire notes (compare similar 'avalanches' in De Falla's Nights In the Gardens of Spain); Recueillement: a rolling nocturnal marine surge and eddy - very filmic - close to Medtner's great sequence of Improvisations (wonderfully recorded on Chesky by Earl Wild). La Maison du Matin is touched with Bachian modernity and Handelian grandeur something like the piano music of Havergal Brian. This final movement (which inevitably recalls Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto) has a great fugal feeling and amid all this Cras creates a timelessly magical moment at 5.04.

This music is of similar accomplishment to Louis Aubert's Sillages, once available in a powerful and sensitive recording by Marie-Catherine Girod on Opès 3D.


Rob Barnett

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