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Jean CRAS (1879-1932)
La Flūte de Pan (1928) [13:36]
Quintet for piano, two violins, viola and cello (1922) [18:02]
Quintet for harp, flute, violin, viola and cello (1928) [21:41]
Sophie Karthäuser (soprano)
rec. 2018, Studio 1, Flagey, Brussels
No text or translation
PASSACAILLE 1067 [69:00]

The three works here were composed between 1922 and 1928 and illustrate Cras’s very distinctive contribution to French chamber music. La Flūte de Pan is based on a poem by Lucien Jacques (regrettably not included in the booklet either in the original or in translation), a favoured poet of the composer who had earlier written Fontaines, a song cycle using several of Jacques’ poems. La Flūte de Pan in its very name evokes the kind of antique and mythic subject matter that Cras so much loved to evoke, and in its scoring – a soprano, the fine Sophie Karthauser, seven-note set of panpipes, and three strings – it also offers novelty, as well as evocative sensuality. As so often Cras favours undulating themes and his textures and sonorities generate pastoral warmth. The four sections – the first by far the longest – are free-flowing and languid, though also offer moments of exaltation and vibrancy. A great shame, though, about the lack of texts.

The Piano Quintet was composed when Cras was on board the destroyer of which he was in command. It has an intoxicating verve, a sense of marine enchantment and vivacious sway of which he was a master – a kind of Cras Boogie. There’s also a sirocco and Fauréan quality to the music – Cras often journeyed to Algeria – as the dynamics crest and fall in the slow movement and an ardent hustle in the scherzo. The finale, the last of the four movements, is a kind of Le retour, as its luscious themes and textures draw one back to the exultant confidence of the opening.

Composed in 1928, the Quintet for harp, flute and three strings has warmth and zip. It also possesses an element – to my ears – of dance band songfulness: one can imagine Charles Trenet or Jean Sablon bursting forth at various points during its 22-minute length. There’s also some ą la mode tango-like sinuous rhythms amidst the easeful lyricism, which offers great opportunities for the viola to play out – duly taken here by Elisabeth Smalt. To top all this Cras unveils Arcadian colour in the fast finale.

The Trio ą Cordes Miličre, rather more languid than the present performers, recorded the Quintet for Harp and La Flūte de Pan (this last quite elusive on disc) attractively, adding the Trio, not the Piano Quintet. The harp quintet has appeared on disc rather more often than the companion piano quintet.

But the performances here are very persuasive and have been enhanced by a fine recording. It’s difficult, for me at least and for many others too, I’m sure, to resist Cras’ allure and so it proves here.

Jonathan Woolf

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