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Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
Quintet No. 1 for flute, harp and string trio (1932) [9:22]
Jean-Yves DANIEL-LESUR (1908-2002) 
Suite Médiévale (1946) [14:08]
Jean-Michel DAMASE (1928-2013)
Quintet No. 2 for flute, harp and string trio (1947) [19:42]
Quintette Instrumental de Paris
Gaston Crunelle (flute)
René Bas (violin)
Pierre Ladhuie (viola)
Pierre Coddée (cello)
Bernard Galais (harp)
rec. 1961, Paris

This disc of three French quintets has been something of a discovery for me. I had heard none of these chamber works before. In fact, apart from Jean Francaix, the other two composers I was encountering for the first time. I have to point out from the outset that there are no masterpieces here, rather the programme is a relatively lightweight affair. Having said that, there is no denying that these three scores have their merits. The transfers derive from a stereo LP on Les Discophiles Français label. The ensemble 'Quintette Instrumental de Paris' was originally founded in 1922 by Pierre Jamet, a Parisian harpist, ostensibly to showcase the newly invented double action pedal harp. Over the next decades the group commissioned works by contemporary composers, extending the repertoire for this particular formation. Whether the works here were commissioned by the group I’m not certain, as there are no notes with this release. The recordings were made in 1961.

Françaix’s Quintet is the work of a young man; he was twenty at the time. At just under ten minutes, I’m surprised how much he packs into it. Whilst movements 1 and 3 offer some sedate melodic luxury, 2 and 4 seem more characteristic of a composer noted for his wit, sparkle and fun-loving style.

Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur studied composition with Charles Tournemire. In 1936, he co-founded, with Messiaen, Jolivet and Baudrier, the group La Jeune France, whose aim was to write music “more human and less abstract”. His Suite Médiévale dates from 1945-46 when he was in his late thirties. It panders to his taste for polymodality. It's scored in five movements. ‘Monodie’ is simply stated in bare harmony. ‘L'Ange au sourire’ narrates dreamy whispers against a harp ostinato, with ‘Complainte’ utilizing the harp in similar fashion. ‘Symphonie’ sounds the most Medieval to me. ‘Danse’, as its title suggests, reveals itself in enticingly buoyant rhythms.

As far as I can ascertain this is the only recording of Damase's Quintet Op. 2 (if anyone knows any different, please enlighten me). He was born in Bordeaux, the son of harpist Micheline Kahn. He studied piano at the Paris Conservatoire with none other than Alfred Cortot, and could count Marcel Dupré and Claude Delvincourt as his composition teachers. The Quintet, Op. 2 was penned in 1947, and if you are a fan of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro you won’t fail to be won over by this delightful charmer. The central Andante is particularly attractive with its refined and genteel harp accompaniment. The effervescent finale will certainly raise a smile from the listener.

The statue’s expression on the CD cover says it all!

Stephen Greenbank




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