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Paul Le FLEM (1881-1954)
Works for solo piano: Avril (1910) [5:51]; Vieux calvaire (1910) [6:23]; Sept prières enfantines (1911) [11:47]; Par grèves (1910) [7:59]; Par landes (1907) [5:55]; Chant des Genêts (1911) [11:42]
Violin Sonata (1905) [29:05]
Marie-Catherine Girod (piano)
Annick Roussin (violin)
rec. La Clé d'Ut, 10-12 Nov 1992. AAD
Collection Musiques Françaises
ACCORD 476 160 9 [78:42]


Le Flem’s piano music is imbued with the Celtic spirit he seems to have absorbed from his Breton homeland; he was born in Lezardrieux near Treguier. Bax, Moeran and Ireland - especially the first two - are closer parallels than either Ravel or Debussy although Vieux Calvaire owes something to the last two. The Celtic dreaminess in this music is offset by the Atlantic’s bardic violence and by the vigorous dances of the Breton villages. All the piano solos date from the period 1907-11.

This collection gathers four single movement essays with two sets of miniatures. I wondered if Le Flem would have changed the style but in fact these are more a case of an adult’s wistful musing on a distant childhood than a set for children to play. They often seem to operate at two levels: as an invocational spell and as an evocation. The mesmeric distant bells of La Chappelle from the Childhood Prayers is especially memorable. While Le Soir from Chant des genêts is just as good. Those wanting to try something similar to Ma Mère l’Oye will find these pieces rewarding. Each of the two sets ends in bluff play with the finale of the Chant recalling Bax’s Gopak.

The three movement, thirty minute Violin Sonata was written in memory of the composer’s parents. Annick Roussin’s nasal-toned violin now joins Girod whose instrument is slightly distanced by comparison with the solos. The piano is placed to the extreme right which is mildly disorientating at first - as if the left-hand channel has died. This is a romantically dreamy subtle work in a rhapsodic heartfelt mood. The Lent (tr. 18) is an astoundingly beautiful inspiration. Just listen from 2.10 (and 4.20) onwards where Girod’s sensitively touched in ostinato prepares the ground for the whisper-subtle song spun with breathless tension by Roussin. He does something similar at the end of Par grèves from 6.30 onwards. The finale has a lively dancing air but is prone to introspection (6.00) - a mood together with a Russian accent which dominates the last few pages. This masterful work can happily join the similarly styled first violin sonatas of Dunhill, Howells, Bax and Ireland.

Returning to the solos. Par Landes (On the Moors) a substantial piece - melancholy, heroic and sombrely optimistic - like Par Grèves (On the Shores), was written first, two years after the Sonata. It echoes with the sound of bells and the magnificence of marine landscapes - in wind, rain and sunshine. Both are dedicated to their champion of many years, the pianist Maurice Dumesnil. The other two substantial solos are from 1910 the year before his symphonic poem Les Voix du Large and three years before Pour les Morts. These two works, according to Michel Fleury, are as imbued with Breton landscape as Bridge’s Enter Spring and Ireland’s Forgotten Rite and Legend are with the South Downs of England. Avril is like a meeting between John Foulds’ April-England, a chilly echo of de Falla’s Nights (not so much Spain as the Golfe du Morbihan) and as Michel Fleury points out Debussy’s L’Ile Joyeuse. There are also moments when the style relates frankly to Bax’s Second and Third piano sonatas. Vieux calvaire rises from impressionistic trills and dank introspection to a sunlit seascape glory (3.19) with great warm chords like supporting columns.

I cannot overstate the high quality of this music. Its appreciation is aided by Michel Fleury’s authoritative and sensitive notes. The music carries elements of the sonatas and solos of Arnold Bax and the preludes and especially the Etudes-Tableaux of Rachmaninov. If you enjoy either (or even both) then you need to get hold of this disc before it succumbs again to deletion.

Rob Barnett



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