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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Jean RIVIER (1896-1987) Rivier Revisited: Chamber Music For Flute
Capriccio for woodwind quintet (1970); Ballade for flute and piano (1965); Oiseaux tendres for solo flute (1935); Affetuoso e Jocando for four flutes (1981); Vocalise for voice and flue (1981); Sonatine for flute and piano (1941); Virevoltes for solo flute (1970); Duo for flute and clarinet (1969); Comme une tendre berceuse (1984)
Leone Buyse (flute)
with Logan Skelton piano; Michael Webster, clarinet; Freda Herseth, mezzo-soprano; Kristen Beene, oboe; Richard Beene, bassoon; Bryan Kennedy, horn; Penelope, Claudia Anderson and Julie Stone, flutes
Recorded at Huron Hills Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2000?
CRYSTAL RECORDS CD319 [62.07]


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Jean Rivier was a contemporary of Jean Francaix (1902-1998) and Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). I mention these particular figures because they were both keen on the flute and all composed chamber music in a not-dissimilar language. In fact I would say that Rivier is a better and more interesting composer than Francaix but not as memorable and characteristic as Poulenc.

There was a time, in the old days of Radio 3, when Jean Rivier’s music ‘popped up’ in morning programmes, now and again. More recently, I’ve seen his name listed for a broadcast at 3.00 a.m. or some other unearthly hour. But mostly his music has faded from even that somewhat flimsy position.

Like other French composers Rivier was a lover of the flute and writes brilliantly for it. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the three-movement Sonatine. What a wonderful work - especially its helter-skelter Finale where the instrument is treated virtuosically, contrasting with the mountain stream delicacy of the middle movement where the instrument’s lyrical character is emphasized. Especially of interest with regard to the lyrical nature of the flute are the two unaccompanied pieces although they both contain flighty arabesques and writing which creates a number of challenges for the performer.

The booklet notes (by Julie Stone one of the flautists, and Leone Buyse herself) attempt, very well I think, to ‘nail down’ Rivier’s language. I quote "his music is characterized by such techniques as modality, quartal and quintal harmonies" (building harmonies in 4ths and 5ths) "polychords, parallelism, ornamentation, extreme of tessitura, and intensely contrasting moods." And if you think that these terms could be applied to any 20th Century composer the notes offer further explanation: "Prominent also are three distinct stylistic elements: gentle flowing lyricism, dramatic dynamism and charmingly persistent wit". Gosh. Well all that I can say is ‘don’t let that lot put you off’. This is charming music, written with felicity and craftsmanship and performed with dedication and consummate skill. I particularly admire Leone Buyse’s phrasing in the more delicate music like the slightly enigmatic ‘Ballade’ where an air of mystery is important towards the end. I also admire the use of the lower register which is particularly significant in the ‘Vocalise’ (an unpublished work). The blend of the flute with the woodwind is delightful in the fascinating ‘Capriccio’, which, rather sensibly, opens the disc and gives it a strong start. Its varied textures will immediately wipe away any fear you might have that Rivier is another second-rate, vacuous French composer. It certainly has its dark side especially in the low writing for bassoon and clarinet in movement 2, marked ‘Mélancolique’.

The last piece on the disc is actually Rivier’s last flute work written after a composing career of almost sixty years. It is just a little piece for young flautists but possesses great charm and elegance. It’s almost my favourite piece on the record.

The recording is first class and well balanced. The neatly folding booklet is, I’m afraid, confusingly set out but with good notes on the music and the musicians with translations from the American (!) into French. So, why not take the plunge. You don’t need to be an aficionado of the flute to appreciate this wonderful playing and fine music. Rivier may represent a by-way in 20th century music but there is no doubt in my mind that it is one which I hope to further explore, perhaps you will too.


Gary Higginson

 


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