Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Music for Two Pianos
Le petit elfe - Ferme-l’oeil – Une semaine dansée, Op.73 (1912/1923-24) (arr De’Ath) [40:07]
La tragédie de Salomé, Op.50 (1907/1910-11) [27:09]
Reflets d’Allemagne: Huit valses, Op.28 (1906) [13:35]
J’entends dans le lointain ... Op.64, No.1 (1917/1929) [12:10]
Étude pour le Palais hanté d’Edgar Poe, Op.49 (1900-04/1909) [13:43]
Trois rapsodies, Op.53 (1903-04) [20:01]
Leslie De’Ath (piano); Anya Alexeyev (piano); Kimberly Barber (mezzo); James Mason (oboe)
Includes World Premiere Recordings (in these versions)
rec. Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, Faculty of Music, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 17 December 2010, 22 February 2011, 9 May 2011

Schmitt is of that cursed generation of French composers whose music has been occluded by the genius of Ravel and Debussy. This happened in much the same way that Kuula and Madetoja struggled to get out from beneath the shadow cast by Sibelius long after his silence began; indeed long after he died. There is plenty more Schmitt to come and the most direly needed is his later masterpiece for cello and orchestra the Introit, Récit et Congé. How long, O Lord?

Meantime this attractive two-disc recital for two pianos emerges courtesy of long-time Schmitt champion Leslie De'ath whose Dutton series of the Scott piano music has a special niche in the catalogue. The fourteen character miniatures that make up Le petit elfe ferme l'oeil are given a spirited outing. They move with ease between skilled jaunty light salon material to pages of elusive strangeness as in the case of D'allure decidée with its awkward hiccupping dissonances reminiscent of the music of Raymond Loucheur recently encountered in the Forgotten Records catalogue (FR374). This Hopfrog oddity takes us onto the same magically and slightly Russian-nationalistic limb as Ravel's Mère l'oye and pushes the listener out towards the world of Stravinsky's Rite and Petrushka. De'ath, in his fine and full notes, refers to the linkage with Ravel's L’enfant et les sortilèges. Exotic nationalist dances such as Le parapluie chinois recall the oriental impressionism of James Friskin’s still unrecorded oriental piano suites and Holbrooke's second piano concerto L’Orient. In the same vein we then hear the five movements of La Tragédie de Salomé which muses gloomily and then erotically. It then makes links with Rimsky’s exultant Antar. The great melody is tellingly tolled out by these two artists. The possessed battering barbarity of Danse des Eclairs and Danse de l'effroi is suitably ruthless and spikily assaulting. James Mason's oboe makes an admirably atmospheric contribution in Les enchantements sur la mer and mezzo Kimberley Barber’s vocalise in Chanson de la Nourrice is lovely.

CD 2 opens with a German travelogue or set of postcards with eight cities portrayed in waltz form. These are lighter than the material on CD 1 but by no means inconsequential. Heidelberg is pretty determined and serious. Koblenz is closer to the Straussian waltz - more carefree. Lübeck is deliciously light on the aural palate. Werder is affectionate and even Brahmsian. Vienne is a grave waltz with flashing lightning and rumbling thunder-strikes. Dresden is urbane: quite the man about town and much the same can be said of Nuremberg where Schmitt saunters confidently along with twirling malacca cane. Munich is yet more decorative.

From another world comes the masterful J'entends dans le lointain from 1917-1929. It's one of Schmitt's most oblique and troubled pieces - with deep waters profoundly stirred. It’s effect is rather like that of the troublous realm established in Bax's Winter Waters and The Devil that tempted St Anthony - the latter also for two pianos. The Poe-inspired Etude pour Le Palais Hanté has a derivation from the Mallarmé translation of Poe’s words. There is a romantically-charged theme that strives for primacy above the stormy and struggle. After this we are returned to the lighter illustrative world of the Reflets d'Allemagne with the Godowsky-style indulgences of the Trois rapsodies.

Refreshing stuff adding with éclat to the diversely populated world of Florent Schmitt.

Rob Barnett

Refreshing stuff adding with real éclat to the diversely populated world of Florent Schmitt.