French Flute Chamber Music
Marcel TOURNIER (1879-1951)
Suite Op.34 [13:46]
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Suite en rocaille Op.84 (1937) [13:41]
Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
Variations libres et finale Op.51 (1933) [10:52]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
Quintette (1932) [9:16]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Sérénade Op.30 (1925) [15:53]
Mirage Quintet - Robert Aitken (flute); Erica Goodman (violin); Jacques Israelivitch (violin); Teng Li (viola); Winona Zelenka (cello)
rec. October 2007, St Anne’s Church, Toronto
NAXOS 8.570444 [63:53]

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 adept musicality.

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 here!

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 de vivre 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 lovely disc.

Jonathan Woolf