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.
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.
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.
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.
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.