French chamber music sings evocatively in this choice quintet
of works by five composers. The ethos is never vapid, or emptily
vaporous; instead we get a sense of the colouristic and rhythmically
inimitable. It could only be Gallic.
Tournier’s Suite is pretty much an index of this style.
It bears the unmistakable stamp of the pellucid French nocturnal.
As a famous harpist and composer Tournier knew exactly how to
distribute melody lines, how to accentuate the harp’s rippling
commentary, and how to increase the sense of rhythmic tension
when required. So too he knew that elasticity of gesture was
necessary, that Debussian elements can be successfully integrated
into his own writing with a degree of freedom so as to make the
inheritance palpable but not stifling. Its evocative sensuality
and the warmth of the string writing are all examples of Tournier’s
Schmitt wrote his Suite en rocaille
in 1934. Slonimsky
called its stance one of ‘elegant rococo’. It has
a deliciously lyrical feel with ingenious sonorities, a vital
and urgent Scherzo and a slow movement that alternates between
languid reflection and more overtly expressive lines. The spruce,
buoyant finale is effective and dynamic. I wouldn’t really
endorse Slonimsky if his phrase suggests to you - as it does
to me - cod gestures and frippery.
A more freewheeling example of the genre comes via Pierné’s Variations
libres et finale.
It’s quite an embouchure test for
the flautist. Its capricious sense of moods, intimations and
reflections - whilst not especially deep - requires playing of
the utmost control and tight ensemble. No problems on that score
Where Pierné is all bustle, at least in the opening, Françaix
aims at languor. His very compact Quintette embraces more horizontal
pleasures - not sexually, but evocatively. The gauzy reverie-romance
that is the lovely Andante is followed by a folksong-based Rondo
finale that’s full of the composer’s characteristic joie
and wit. Finally we have Roussel’s 1925 Sérénade
This does have a touch of the neo-classical about it, but its
heart lies in the amazingly beautiful slow movement. Here Roussel
lavishes a hauntingly intense atmosphere, where colour and texture
are ravishing and beguiling in the extreme. It’s played
with suitable ardour and an attention to detail that makes such
thing live in the memory.
And, warmly recorded, not too cloudily either, it ends a truly
see also reviews by Oleg
Ledeniov and Carla