Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Complete Original Works for Piano Duet and Duo - vol.1
Three Rhapsodies, for two pianos, op.53 (1903-04) [21:54]
Seven Pieces, for piano 4 hands, op.15 (1899) [26:08]
Rhapsodie Parisienne, for piano 4 hands (two pianos) (1900) [6:12]
Invencia Piano Duo
rec. Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, 3-5 January 2010 (opp.15, 53); 3 June 2011 (Rhapsodie Parisienne). DDD
GRAND PIANO GP 621 [54:14]

Grand Piano's claim that Florent Schmitt "stands alongside Debussy and Ravel as one of the most original and influential French composers of his time" is no exaggeration, and until his death this was reflected by wide-reaching public recognition. Since then, however, his star has inexplicably waned, in spite of the availability of a growing number of recordings.
This disc is the first of four volumes and many premiere recordings of Schmitt's genial music for piano duo and duet, which the accompanying booklet notes reckon may be second only to Schubert's in quantitative terms. Volume 2 has recently been released (GP622), with a third due out in April 2013 (GP623). The fourth and final volume is likely to appear later in theyear. In what is, for the 21st century, a rare act of respect for a dead composer's wishes, there is one of Schmitt's duets, the early Marche Spectrale (1893), that the US-based Invencia Piano Duo will not be recording, as Schmitt did not want it published.
This is also Invencia's debut for Grand Piano. Invencia are Azerbaijan-born Andrey Kasparov, also a composer, and professor of composition and piano at Old Dominion University in Norfolk; and Ukrainian Oksana Lutsyshyn, who also teaches piano and music theory at ODU. They play together with impeccable timing and elegance, not to mention considerable virtuosity, as this recital demonstrates.
Unlike the other two works, the opening Three Rhapsodies have been recorded before - perhaps half a dozen times indeed. Their audience-friendliness is a factor of their cosmopolitan nature: a playful Française, an urbane Polonaise - far from 'melancholic', as the notes claim - and a waltzy Viennoise. A further French one of similar length is a standalone work - the Rhapsodie Parisienne. Naxos's in-house reviewer makes the reasonable point that it has "that slightly neurotic quality of Ravel's La Valse", without realising however that the idea that Schmitt did not publish it because "probably on reflection he thought [it] too close to that work for comfort", completely ignores the fact that Schmitt's work pre-dates Ravel's by almost twenty years. One of the latter's most popular works owes in fact a huge debt to the Rhapsodie Parisienne - and indeed to the Viennoise movement of the Three Rhapsodies - yet such are the vagaries of history that Schmitt is all but unknown whilst Ravel is lionised. The Seven Pieces, which the back inlay and inside track-listing mistakenly show to have a running time of 32:20, are a dreamy Fauréan delight for jaded ears, the musical equivalent of summer zephyr under azure sky. It all but beggars belief that this is the premiere recording of such an instantly winning work.
Audio is very good. The English-German-French booklet notes consist of a general biography by Jerry Rife and specific commentaries on the music by Kasparov himself. The only minor criticism that can be levelled at this disc is the short running-time, although in fairness to Grand Piano the still-to-be-publicised final volume would have to come in well under the hour mark for the four CDs to squeeze onto three.
A perfect companion to these Grand Piano discs, incidentally, would be Naxos's own recent - presumably first - volume of Schmitt's solo piano music, confidently played by the young French pianist Vincent Larderet, and including one of Schmitt's many masterpieces, the pre-Rite-of-Spring ballet Tragédie de Salomé, in Schmitt's own dramatic condensation of the original orchestral score (8.572194).
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A dreamy Fauréan delight for jadedears – a summer zephyr under an azure sky.

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