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Antoine MARIOTTE (1875-1944)
Impressions urbaines (1914-1919) [38:35]
Intimités (1925) [8:33]*
Le Vieux Chemin (1925) [3:16]*
Kakémonos (1924) [16:34]
Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
Sabine Revault d’Allonnes (soprano)*
rec. Vincennes, Coeur de ville, September 2015
TIMPANI 1C1236 [67:20]

I shouldn’t imagine many will have heard of Antoine Mariotte but, like Albert Roussel and Jean Cras, he spent his early years at sea before answering his true calling to music. Born in Avignon in 1875, he entered naval college at the age of fifteen. His years as a sailor weren’t wasted: he took the opportunity to learn harmony. His travels took him to the South China Sea, and sketches he made at the time were later incorporated into his suite Kakémonos. In 1897 he left the navy and entered the Schola Cantorum in Paris as a composition pupil of Vincent d'Indy. He was then appointed professor of piano at Lyon Conservatoire. In 1920 he became director of the Conservatoire d'Orléans, and later was made director of the Opéra-Comique, a post he held from 1936 to 1939. He died in 1944. His compositions focus mainly on the stage, and his early works were influenced by d'Indy. His later compositions took him down the road of dissonance and tautness of style. His claim to fame is his one act opera Salome to a libretto based on the French play Salome by Oscar Wilde.

I was surprised to read that, considering he was an accomplished pianist, Mariotte left only three piano works, consisting of a sonata (1907) and the two suites we have here. The suites are compositionally more advanced in style, descriptive, linear, bitonal, dissonant, with complex rhythmical structures. Impressions urbaines, the most substantial piano work he penned and later orchestrated, consists of five pieces: Usines, Faubourgs, Guingettes, Décombres and Gares. Although a Debussian influence can be detected, the focus of the music is not on nature but on industry and machines. The pieces evoke toil in the city, and Mariotte's inventive skill paints a landscape of factories, machinery and railways. There’s a sombre, grey and joyless pall hanging over the music. Yet, in Guingettes, the workers find some respite on a Friday night in the dance hall, where there is gaiety, depicted by dazzling fanfares and ostinato rhythms. Blumenthal’s compelling account vividly portrays the composer’s intentions.

Between 1894-1895, on board the Forfait, Mariotte witnessed the closing stages of the Sino-Japanese War, and made some sketches that would, thirty years later, become Kakémonos or ‘four Japanese pieces’. Written for the piano, like Impressions urbaines, it was later orchestrated. The four pieces are titled: 1. Panorama, 2. Gheshas, 3. Temple au crepuscule 4. Fete. Kakemona is a hanging object – a scroll painting, secured by two horizontal sticks. The composer summons up some imaginative pianistic resources, including dissonance and bitonality. The score is shot through with Japanese touches – use of the pentatonic mode and employment of oriental scales to evoke both colour and mood. In Panorama, Blumenthal’s deft use of pedal creates a myriad range of colour with which he paints the exotic landscape. Gheshas makes use of cascading scales and motoric rhythms. The third piece Temple au crépuscule provides something of a subdued contrast, where we are transported to the twilight zone, whilst Fete is angular and combative in character.

Mariotte left quite a few songs, and those included here were composed around the same time as Kakémonos. There are four included – the cycle Intimités, which consists of three and Le Vieux Chemin. The songs in this selection are cast in a more intimate vein than the solo piano works, and I hear echoes of Duparc in their sensuous impressionistic harmonies. Their central theme is love. This is reflected in the title of Intimités and the third song is Si je t’aime (If I love you). Sabine Revault d’Allonnes sings them exquisitely, bringing these delightful vocal gems to life with colour and vibrancy, sensitively accompanied by Blumenthal. The balance between the two is ideally struck. The pianist is no stranger to this genre having recorded the complete Duparc melodies with the mezzo-sopano Michčle Losier for the Fuga Libera label. Timpani have included French texts of the songs, but no translations.

Audio quality is consistent with Timpani’s usual high standard. With comprehensive annotations in French and English, this is a highly rewarding release.

Stephen Greenbank



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