Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Piano Music
Ombres, Op. 64 (J’entends dans le lointain: Large et soutenu [13:14]; Mauresque: Modèré [5:41]; Cette ombre, mon image: Calme [10:08])
Mirages, Op. 70 (Et Pan, au fond des blés lunaires, s’accouda: Un peu attardé [7:06]; La Tragique Chevauchée: Emporté et violent [8:24])
La Tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50 bis (version for piano by the composer): (Part I: Prélude: Lent [10:18]; Danse des perles: Assez vif [4:38]; Part II: Lent – Les Enchantements sur la mer – Danse des éclairs – Danse de l’effroi [17:03])
Vincent Larderet (piano)
rec. 8-10 July 2009, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, UK
NAXOS 8.572194 [76:45]

Florent Schmitt composed extensively for piano throughout his long career. The three works collected here are often regarded as among his most important contributions for the instrument. They date from the middle of his life: La tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50, 1912-13 (based on the original orchestral score of 1907 and its revision, which was premiered in 1911), Ombres, Op. 64, 1917, and Mirages, Op. 70, 1921.

While some of Schmitt’s earlier compositions have affinities with the styles of some of his contemporaries, these scores reveal Schmitt’s unique voice. He had already proved himself in the orchestral version of La tragédie, a work which conveys the familiar story of Salome, the daughter of Herodias, whose dancing for Herod Antipas earned her an open-ended favour from the king. The result was the infamous demand for the head of the prophet John the Baptist, something her mother requested to silence the preaching against her infidelities. The drama was familiar at the time from the popularity of both Oscar Wilde’s play, which was written in French, and Richard Strauss’s setting of that drama as an opera (1905). Schmitt focused on the aspect of dance rather than retelling the drama. His Tragédie de Salomé was conceived as a series of stylized dances focusing on the well-known “Dance of the Seven Veils” also found in Strauss’s opera.

Effective as an orchestral work, the transcription for piano allowed the composer to focus on the musical content and leave off, for the moment, his distinctive scoring. Even so, the writing for piano is not without interest especially in the use of figures to simulate orchestral effects. Also notable is his implementation of ranges on the keyboard to convey a span of timbres. As a result, this work is idiomatically pianistic without being derivative of the orchestral score. It is convincing in this solo piano version which Vincent Larderet delivers masterfully. He sets up the piece with an evocative reading of the Prélude by making use of the tempo (Lent) to bring out the various details of the score. The remainder of the first part consists of the “Danse des perles” (“Dance of pearls”) which works well in projecting the kind of decadence associated with the story in its various recent expressions. The second part is more complex, with its series of dances interconnected in a single movement building to a conclusion. Here Larderet is also effective in bringing his insights into each of the pieces. He then seamlessly leads the listener from one section to another. At times the music sounds as if its origins were with the piano and that this is not a transcription of a work for another idiom. This is testimony to Larderet’s interpretative craft.

The other two works are similarly impressive. Ombres consists of three movements which are essentially character pieces. Larderet treats each movement individually. Those unfamiliar with Schmitt’s piano music might sample the first, a relatively short piece entitled “Mauresque”, which gives a sense of the composer’s approach to the instrument. He allows the textures to guide his interpretation, as well as the others in the set, something that works quite well in the more sustained conception of the first piece “J’entends dans le lointain”. This more extended piece is complemented by the last “Cette ombre, mon image”, which contains some expressive dissonances here delivered to good effect.

The other piece on this recording, Mirages, consists of two movements, and is similar in style. Dissonant chords and angular lines work well in the pianistic idiom. Mastery of the score emerges as strongly as in the other works on this recording. The music suggests a live performance, an aspect of the recording that is laudable in itself. At the same time, the sense of improvisation that Larderet brings to various passages is effective in conveying his solid reading and persuasive interpretations.

James L Zychowicz

Persuasive interpretations of these challenging works.