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Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Complete Original Works for Piano Duet and Duo
The Invencia Piano Duo (Andrey Kasparov, Oksana Lutsyshyn)
rec. 2010-2012
Previously issued as single releases GP721-4
GRAND PIANO GP730X [4 CDs: 229:41]

My knowledge of the music of Florent Schmitt has sadly been restricted to the seemingly obligatory La Tragédie de Salomé, Psalm 47, which, along with a handful of orchestral and chamber pieces and a few choral and piano works, hardly constitutes a thorough survey of his music. I actually came to his music in a roundabout way; I knew he was involved in the preparation of the vocal editions of some of Delius’s operas, which I enjoy, and it was because of this that I began to listen to his music. So I was glad for the opportunity to review these four splendid discs of piano duo and duet works, volume 2 of which I had heard before and greatly enjoyed.

These four discs are all available separately, with all being reviewed separately earlier on this site (see below), and one volume deservedly being awarded the accolade of Recording of the Month. I would also like to draw people’s attention to the fine article on the composer in these pages by Leslie De'Ath. It is for this reason that, rather than repeat what has been already written, I will concentrate on some highlights and favourite works from the set.

The project opened with a strong performance of the Trois Rapsodies, Op. 53, but on the first disc it is the Sept Pièces, Op 15 that for me stand out. Each of these seven miniatures are offering the listener an insight into the composer’s earliest influences. They are varied in style, with aspects of the music of Schumann, Grieg and his great French contemporary, Debussy, clear in their construction. The earliest of his major piano duet series, these are important in that they point to what was to come, as Schmitt takes these influences and develops them into his own sound world.

The second volume offers three suites of pieces, the first of which, Sur Cinq Notes, Op. 34, shows the composer experimenting with various styles, all based upon a five note motif. However, it is the second suite that uses five note motifs, the Reflets D’allemagne, Op. 28, that I find the most rewarding. This suite has the greater charm and seems to be the more technical, with Stravinsky-like neo-classicism being felt in two of the eight pieces. The other suite presented here is the only work to have been recorded before, receiving an excellent performance by Leslie De’Ath and Anya Alexeyev for Dutton (CDLX 7273), with The Invencia Piano Duo giving an equally committed and persuasive performance.

Volume three offers the listener three further suites of pieces containing great variety and charm. The two books of Feuillets de Voyage were both published under the same opus number, Op. 26, and present Schmitt at his most romantic. The pieces, as the name suggests, offer memories from the composer’s travels. It is the humour of his Musiques Foraines, which I found the most enjoyable, with pieces such as Boniment de clowns, La belle Fathma and Les éléphants savants bring the listener all the fun of the carnival with its depiction of clowns, belly dancers and elephants. It also presents some of the most technically challenging of all of Schmitt’s four-hand piano music.

Once again the final volume of this set presents three suites of pieces, in which Schmitt shows his originality and humour. The disc opens with the Humoresques, Op. 43, six pieces, which again show the variety in his style. It opens with a Marche militaire, which could be seen as a precursor to the Marche du 163e R.I., Op. 48 No. 2 presented on the previous disc, and concludes with a Stravinsky-like Danse grotesque. The Lied et scherzo, Op. 54 was originally composed for double wind quintet and is well known in this format; here it receives a sensitive and faithful transcription by the composer, and works well. Some of the composer’s most compact piano writing, the Trois Pièces Récréatives, Op. 37 lasts less than four and a half minutes, yet it seems that the other works pivot around these three short works. Satie-like in spirit, the suite opens with a boisterous Quadrille before the second movement Gavotte introduces humour, before the final Marche combines both aspects. The final work on this disc, and of the set, is the Une Semaine Du Petit Elfe Ferme-L'oeil ou Les songes de Hialmar, Op. 58 (A week in the life of the little elf shut-eye or the dreams of Hialmar). The seven pieces here make up the longest suite of music on the final disc, and present music based upon a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, offering various aspects of emotion, from the mournful to the humorous.

This is a wonderful set, one in which The Invencia Piano Duo should not only be congratulated, but also thanked. Their playing is impeccable and shows great sensibility throughout, but it is their research and dedication to the composer that deserves the applause, with every disc containing premiere recordings. It is no wonder that Byzantion awarded Volume 1 a Recording of the Month accolade - it deserved it - this would be my reissue of the year. The booklet notes are also excellent; not only do we get the biographical essay by Jerry E. Rife, the same in each volume, but Andrey Kasparov gives us exemplary introductory notes on each of the pieces.

Anyone who was thinking of investing in any one of these discs should think again. Yes, they are all wonderful and each would make a fine addition to anyone’s collection, especially the fourth volume, but when you can get all four discs presented in a slipcase for about the price of buying two discs, I know what I would invest in.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous reviews (original releases)
Volume 1: review ~ review
Volume 2: review ~ review
Volume 3: review ~ review
Volume 4: review ~ review

Volume 1

1  No. 1. Française [5:16]
2  No. 2. Polona [9:05]
3  No. 3. Viennoise [7:33]
4  No. 1. Somnolence [3:16]
5  No. 2. Souvenir de Ribeaupierre [3:51]
6  No. 3. Scintillement [3:21]
7  No. 4. Souhaits de jeune fille [2:46]
8  No. 5. Promenade à l’étang [4:11]
9  No. 6. Fête septentrionale [4:10]
10  No. 7. Traversée heureuse [4:33]
11  Rhapsodie parisienne [6:12]
rec. Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, 3-5 January 2010 (opp.15, 53); 3 June 2011 (Rhapsodie Parisienne).

Volume 2
SUR CINQ NOTES, OP. 34 * [16:14]
1  I. Ronde [1:08]
2  II. Barcarolle [2:41]
3  III. Mazurka [1:51]
4  IV. Bercement [2:41]
5  V. Danse pyrénéenne [0:59]
6  VI. Mélodie [3:24]
7  VII. Pastorale [2:17]
8  VIII. Farandole [1:13]
9  I. Heidelberg [2:43]
10  II. Coblentz [3:09]
11  III. Lübeck [3:15]
12  IV. Werder [2:45]
13  V. Vienne [3:04]
14  VI. Dresden [2:10]
15  VII. Nuremberg [3:11]
16  VIII. Munich [3:23]
8 COURTES PIÈCES, OP. 41 * [19:13]
17  No. 1. Ouverture [2:36]
18  No. 2. Menuet [2:14]
19  No. 3. Chanson [2:45]
20  No. 4. Sérénade [1:56]
21  No. 5. Virelai [1:11]
22  No. 6. Boléro [3:18]
23  No. 7. Complainte [3:16]
24  No. 8. Cortège [1:57]
rec. Wilson G. Chandler Recital Hall, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA, 18 May 2011 (Op.34); 4 June 2010 (Op.28); 9 July 2011 (Op. 41)

Volume 3
Marche du 163e R.I., for piano four hands [two pianos], Op. 48 No. 2 * [1916] [7:13]
No. 1 Sérénade [3:46]
No. 2 Visite [3:26]
No. 3 Compliments [1:14]
No. 4 Douceur du soir [2:12]
No. 5 Danse britannique [1:36]
No. 1 Berceuse [4:27]
No. 2 Mazurka [1:30]
No. 3 Marche burlesque [2:17]
No. 4 Retour a l'endroit familier [3:08]
No. 5 Valse [3:45]
I. Parade [4:38]
II. Boniment de clowns [2:41]
III. La belle Fathma [3:37]
IV. Les éléphants savants [4:29]
V. La pythonisse [4:39]
VI. Chevaux de bois [5:13]
rec. Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, 4 January 2011 (Op. 26), 13 May 2011 (Op. 22), 3 January 2012 (Op. 48/2)

Volume 4
HUMORESQUES, Op. 43 [17:27]
No. 1 Marche militaire [3:14]
No. 2 Rondeau [1:18]
No. 3 Bucolique [4:45]
No. 4 Scherzetto [2:28]
No. 5 Valse sentimentale [3:20]
No. 6 Danse grotesque [2:22]
Lied et scherzo, Op. 54 (version for piano, four hands) * [10:59]
No. 1 Quadrille [1:33]
No. 2 Gavotte [1:25]
No. 3 Marche [1:28]
I. La noce des souris [2:59]
II. Le cigogne lasse [4:18]
III. Le cheval de Ferme-l'oeil [1:43]
IV. Le mariage de la poupée Berthe [4:48]
V. La ronde des lettres boiteuses [1:23]
VI. La promenade à travers le tableau [4:38]
VII. Le parapluie chinois [3:48]
rec. Wilson G. Chandler Recital Hall, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, 8 July 2010, 4, 7, 17 January 2011

*indicates premiere recordings



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