Paul LE FLEM (1881-1984)
Aucassin et Nicolette Chantefable (1908-09) [41:40]
Delphine Haidan (mezzo)
Stanislas de Barbeyrac (tenor)
Mélanie Boisvert (soprano)
Armand Arapian (baritone)
Katia Velletaz (soprano)
Solistes de Lyon/Bernard Tétu
Orchestre des Pays de Savoie/Nicolas Chalvin
rec. Cité des Arts, Chambéry, Savoie, France, 18-20 May 2011. DDD
TIMPANI 1C1188 [41:40]

Aucassin et Nicolette was Breton composer Paul Le Flem's earliest completed stage work. Such was his longevity that he was able to enjoy it for 75 years after putting down his pen! Unusually, Le Flem wrote the work for a puppet show of 'Chinese shadows', which was the height of theatrical fashion at the time. There is indeed what sounds like an oriental colouring to sections of the music, but which is more likely to be the pentatonic harmonies common also to 'Celtic' and medieval music, reflecting both the origins of the composer and of the love poem he so skilfully sets here.
In any case, the light orchestration - strings, harp, piano, chamber organ - is imaginative and richly varied from beginning to end. Le Flem's writing is often modal and impressionistic - comparisons with Debussy and Ravel are inevitable, yet not at all unflattering. New Grove gives the composition date of Aucassin et Nicolette as 1908, as does the authoritative website Compositeurs Bretons. The track-listing gives 1910, whereas musicologist Michel Fleury's notes state that Le Flem began it in 1908 and finished it the following year.
In this premiere recording the chorus and soloists are all native French speakers, the ideal arrangement for French-language texts. There are fine performances from every singer - no vocal acquired tastes here. Sound quality is good too, although the instrumental ensemble sound lacks a little body - not entirely due to the chamber-sized group, but also to a slight loss of definition at the upper edges. Plenty of 'Savoie-faire' about their playing though.
The only real concern about this product is that a full-price CD lasting less than 42 minutes is a big ask of any potential buyer. The marketplace cannot be said to be awash with Le Flem's music - there have been only four previous monographs, two of which were released by Timpani themselves (review, review, the latter re-issued as 1C1123), the others on Marco Polo (8.223655) and Accord (review) - and there are other vocal or stage works that not only could have bulked the disc up a bit, but given further, long-overdue exposure to a figure who counts, along with Ropartz and Langlais, as Breton's finest.
The detailed, interesting notes and photos are printed on flimsy but glossy paper in a booklet that is glued onto the digipak-style case. All text appears in French and English, including a full libretto.
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Le Flem’s puppet show music in a fine performance.