Jean CRAS (1879-1932)
Works for Harp
Quintette for harp, flute, violin, viola and cello [24:04]
Suite En Duo for flute and harp [16:30]
Deux Impromptus for harp [11:30]
Rachel Talitman (harp), Erez Ofer (violin), Marcos Fregnani-Martins (flute), Pierre-Henry Xuereb (viola), Hee-Yong Lim (cello)
rec. no details given
HARP & COMPANY CD-5050-24 [52:04]

Roussel and Rimsky are remembered, amongst other things, for their fledgling naval careers. These in turn inspired exotically flavoured works touched with the Orient - Padmavati and Evocations by Roussel and Sadko, Antar and Sheherazade by Rimsky. Let's not forget Jean Cras a French composer who rose to senior rank in the French Navy and a number of whose works reflect that horizon-broadening oceanic experience. Cras was born in the Manche Atlantique sea-port of Brest. On his naval voyages he took a piano. He became Major-General of the Port of Brest and rose to the rank of Rear-Admiral. His music has been winningly championed by Timpani and extensively reviewed here.

The five movement Quintet (1928) is in four movements. The writing is irradiated with idyllic diaphanous impressionism. If you enjoy the Ravel Introduction and Allegro then this is a discovery you need to make. The textures are busy with delight. There are however some shivery thrusts in the abrasive Animé (II) as well as chilly damps and trailing lichen in III. The writing shifts between voluptuous bloom and cooler ardour touched with the shadows of late afternoon. Some of this reminded me of the more elysian moments in Bax’s Spring fire memorably recorded by Handley on Chandos and more recently on the Hallé label by Mark Elder. Other strange echoes include the dripping fountain music by Delius from Flecker’s Hassan. Fauns and Satyrs scatter across the lawns in the smiling chases and flower-chains of the finale which is marked Tres Lent.

The Suite en Duo (1922) for Flute and Harp is also in four movements. This has the chirpy warmth, slow yield and stretch of the Quintette. After a short Préambule there's a classically folksy birdsong Modéré, a bardic and courtly Assez Lent and a final Danse à onze temps. Overall this sequence reminded me somewhat of Britten's Courtly Dances from Gloriana in the Bream reduction.

The Deux Impromptus for solo harp are in two conjoined movements. The Lent is slow pulsed with much unhurried arpeggiation and pensive romantic proclivities on display rather than the medievalism that gives the Suite en Duo such a distinctive profile. The Animé section glitters, glimmers and scintillates with silver and golden points of light. Deep bell tones counterpoint the mithril shimmer and the piece ends on an understated submissive gesture. It is a masterpiece of the solo harp repertoire. Here display is in fealty to the generous soul of expression and communication. The music is most superbly placed and paced by Rachel Talitman. Finding the right gait is essential to making the telling effect and Talitman does this unerringly. In this she is aided in the acoustic by the technical mastery of Denis Guerdon.

One might only complain about shortish playing time but beyond such grocerly concerns the music-making smilingly beckons you in.

Rob Barnett

Music-making that smilingly beckons you in.