Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Complete Original Works for Piano Duet and Duo - vol.4
Humoresques, for piano four hands, op.43 [17:27]
Lied et Scherzo, for piano four hands (two pianos), op.54 [10:59]
3 Pièces Récréatives, for piano four hands, op.37 [4:26]
Une Semaine du Petit Elfe Ferme-l'Oeil, for piano four hands, op.58 [23:37]
Invencia Piano Duo
rec. Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, 8 July 2010 (op.43), 7-17 January 2011 (opp.37 and 58), 4 January 2012 (op.54).
GRAND PIANO GP 624 [56:29]
This is the fourth and final volume from the Invencia Duo of Florent Schmitt's widely appealing music for piano duo and duet. All have been released within a year of each other and without exception enthusiastically received - see reviews of volume 1 and volumes 2 and 3. According to the accompanying booklet, Schmitt's music for piano duet/duo is second only to Schubert's in quantitative terms - the latter running to six or seven CDs. One item missing from Invencia's traversal, however, is the early Marche Spectrale (1893), respectfully omitted because Schmitt did not want it published.
As on previous discs, there are some world premiere recordings (opp.37 and 54) and an abundance of attractive, evocative music - typical of what Schmitt himself termed his "seductive harmony" - thoughtfully and interestingly scored for four hands. Grand Piano's claim that the composer "stands alongside Debussy and Ravel as one of the most original and influential French composers of his time" is perfectly true, and until his death this was reflected by wide-reaching public recognition. On the whole, however, these four albums offer gentle lyricism and nostalgia rather than what the notes refer to as Schmitt's "bold conviction, elemental intensity and fearless harmonic vocabulary."
Invencia's Azerbaijan-born Andrey Kasparov and Ukrainian Oksana Lutsyshyn, both music professors at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, are armchair-comfortable with the relatively easy-going demands of these works. Years of practise and performing together has led them to a point where they breathe the same breaths and think the same thoughts, making their four-handed musical dispatches the epitome of eloquent refinement and warmth.
For this recital they save the best to last. Une Semaine du Petit Elfe Ferme-l'Oeil is not unlike Musiques Foraines ('Carnival Music') from the previous volume, with Schmitt again using apparently light-hearted fairy-tale subjects - marrying mice, a doll, gimpy alphabet letters, a Chinese umbrella and the like - to offer up a weft of enchanting harmonies, rhythmic diversity and sparkling melody in pregnant detail. Their programme also includes something a little different in Schmitt's oeuvre for four hands - the unusual rhythms and harmonies of the uniquely-titled Lied et Scherzo, "one of Schmitt’s most masterful and visionary compositions", according to Kasparov. For their recording, incidentally, Invencia have transferred one pair of hands to a separate piano.
Audio has been consistently good throughout the series, with the same venue - chez Kasparov and Lutsyshyn - used for all recordings. The English-German-French booklet notes again consist of a general biography by Jerry Rife and specific commentaries on the featured music by Kasparov himself.
One thing for the prospective purchaser to consider is the fact that all four discs have yielded less than an hour's playing time, which effectively adds another couple of dollars to Grand Piano's already premium retail price. It would actually have been possible to rejig the programmes to squeeze the music onto three CDs, something which would not, in truth, have made much, if any, difference to the coherence of each volume. Those whose budget runs only to a single volume could be very happy with the fourth.
A perfect companion to these Grand Piano recordings, incidentally, would be Naxos's own recent - presumably first - disc 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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