Déodat de SÉVÉRAC (1872-1921)
Piano Music - Volume 2
Baigneuses au soleil (Souvenir de Banyuls-sur-mer) (1908) [6:34]
Les naïades et le faune indiscret (Danse nocturne) (pub.1952) [7:18]
Sous les lauriers roses (1919) [14:32]
En Vacances (1er Recueil) (Petites pièces romantiques de moyenne difficulté) (1911) [19:35]
En Vacances (2me Recueil) (Trois pièces) (pub.1922) [12:18]
Jordi Masó (piano)
rec. Auditorium, Jafre, Spain, 29-30 January 2011. DDD
NAXOS 8.572428 [60:42]

Déodat de Sévérac is a composer with whom I can do business. In fact, if I had a couple of extra lives I would dedicate time to studying his life and works. However, I guess that some people may not be too familiar with this composer, so a few biographical notes may be in order before I complete a review of this excellent CD.
There is comparatively little written about Sévérac - even the entry in Groves is less than a thousand words long. However, the critical biographical facts are briefly told. Sévérac was born in Saint-Félix-Caraman, now Saint-Félix-Lauragais, Haute-Garonne in 1872. He was from an aristocratic family and duly inherited the title of Baron de Sévérac, Baron de Beauville. After lessons with his father, who was a distinguished painter, he was enrolled as a pupil at the Toulouse Conservatoire and then at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. Whilst in Paris he came under the influence of César Franck, Albéric Magnard and Vincent d’Indy. An important friendship was made with the Spanish composer and pianist Isaac Albéniz who gave him much advice about piano playing and composition. Other friends at that time included Paul Dukas, Albert Roussel, Joseph Canteloube, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel and Pablo Picasso.
Around 1907 Sévérac left Paris and went back to his birthplace where he entered into the life of the district. He founded a brass band and served as a member of the local council. In 1910, he moved to Céret in Pyrénées-Orientales where he remained until the end of his life. This village was an artistic centre dominated by artists such as Braque and Picasso. During the Great War Sévérac had postings to Carcassonne, Perpignan, St Pons and Prades. He composed little during this time. After the cessation of hostilities, he wrote a number of important works including his last major piano work Sousles lauriers roses (1919) which is included on this present CD. He died in Céret in 24 March 1921.
Although largely remembered for his piano music, he wrote four operas of which Le Coeur du Moulin was given several performances at the Opéra Comique in Paris. He completed a number of tone poems for full orchestra, a good corpus of choral music, many songs and some chamber works.
Conventional wisdom suggests that he was a ‘charming song writer [who] composed some attractive, colourful and descriptive pieces for pianoforte’. Pierre Guillot, the composer’s biographer, submits that Sévérac’s reputation suffered because of his move from Paris. He was deemed to have become a ‘provincial’ composer and hence, in the eyes of the Parisian establishment, a ‘second rate’ one. Another reason that has been suggested for his comparative neglect is the fact that his music does not pose formidable challenges in intellectual understanding or technical performance.
Baigneuses au soleil (Souvenir de Banyuls-sur-mer) (1908) has been described as a ‘gem of impressionism.’ The work which was dedicated to the painter Alfred Cortot is a musical evocation of girls ‘lying in the sun and bathing in the sea at Banyuls-sur-mer’. There is colour, warmth and sunshine in every bar. The work is composed in ternary form, however the middle section develops the tune heard in the opening section rather than creating a new theme. The opening tune returns in sparkling manner. However the coda brings the piece to a conclusion, with just the tiniest hint of sadness - or is it evening shadow?
I love the Les naïades et le faune indiscret (Danse nocturne) which was apparently written in the same year as the Baigneuses, but was not published until 1952 after being discovered by the composer’s daughter. This is a beautifully descriptive work that conjures up a classical scene transposed to the Pyrénées-Orientales landscape. Often languorous, this music reflects a complex, highly perfumed style of pianism. However, it is far removed from the temperament of Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midid'unfaune that also evokes the moods of a faun.
Sous les lauriers roses is an important and multi-faceted work. It was composed in 1919 and was dedicated to ‘the memory of the composer’s teachers, Emmanuel Chabrier, Isaac Albéniz and Charles Bordes. The English translation of the title means ‘Under the Oleanders’, however it has an alternative - Soir de Carnaval sur la Côte Catalane (Carnival Evening on the Catalan Coast). The liner-notes detail the complex exposition of this piece and it is well-worth reading before listening to the music. If I am honest, this piece is a confection: there are musical evocations of drums, flutes, paso dobles, valses and even a ‘playful cuckoo Fughetta.’ In fact, all the noises and sounds that one would expect at a carnival. Yet somehow in spite of all this activity, the piece works well. The pianism is excellent and the sound-world is once again sun-drenched. The three dedicatees must have been delighted with the end-product.
The two sets of En Vacances (On Holiday) are described as ‘a set of little romantic pieces of moderate difficulty, each piece dedicated to a friend or relation.’ It is not necessary to describe all eleven numbers detail. The listener will be reminded of Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen - not so much in the detail, but in the general mood. These pieces are within the gift of an amateur pianist, but require considerable skill with interpretation. I give an English translation of the titles.
The first group begins with a little ‘Invocation to Schumann’. It is followed by seven musical ‘descriptions’ suggesting a day spent ‘In the Castle and in the Park’. Firstly, the slow ‘Grandma’s Caresses’ and then a sprightly ‘The Little Girls from Next Door.’ The third piece suggests ‘Toto dressed as a Beadle’ describing a somewhat lugubrious parish dignitary. The next number is a charming, classically inspired minuet entitled ‘Mimi dressed as a ‘Marquise’’- or ‘In Powdered wig and hoop-skirt’. The fifth piece is a surprisingly slow-paced ‘Games in the Park’. Then we hear an ‘Old Music Box’ complete with drone bass and high register. The final number in the first set is a delightfully wayward ‘Waltz’.
The second group of En Vacances was completed and compiled by the pianist Blanche Selva. The most impressive piece is the inevitably Chopinesque ‘Chopin’s Fountain’ which, in spite of the opening phrase is in fact a delicious waltz. The other two pieces are equally attractive, with an evocation of ‘The Dove Fountain’ and the fleeting ‘The Three Musketeers’.
The music of these short pieces is a concatenation of Schumann, Fauré, Chabrier, Debussy and the salon works of Albéniz. However, this is not pastiche or parody, but synthesis. Sévérac entertains, engages and charms with these holiday-inspired pieces and makes the miniatures his own creation.
I enjoyed all the pieces on this disc. The pianist Jordi Masó has taken these works to his heart. He brings sunlight, blue skies and a tang of the Mediterranean into virtually every bar. His sympathy towards this music is clear to any listener. He does not patronise whilst playing some of the more technically straightforward pieces.
I had to rely heavily on the liner-notes for this CD and typically these are excellent. The CD sound quality is superb.
Finally, it would be good to have some of the songs and orchestral music in the CD catalogues. Déodat de Sévérac may not be a genius and most definitely he has not shaken the pillars of musical composition, however he has written a body of attractive, competent and entertaining works. He deserves to be much better known.
John France

Not a genius but his music is attractive, competent and entertaining.