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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet (1907) [10:55]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Sérénade for flute, string trio and harp (1925) [16:05]
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Suite en Rocaille for harp, violin, viola, flute, cello (1934) [15:05]
Clavecin obtempérant, Op. 107 (“The Ill-Tempered Clavier”) (1945) [15:03]
Quintette Marie-Claire Jamet, Marcelle de Lacour (harpsichord)
rec. 11 July 1957, Studio Barclay (Clavecin); October 1960, Paris

I've no hesitation in saying that Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet is one of the supreme masterpieces of 20th century chamber music. It was composed in 1905 and premiered in Paris in February 1907, a commission by the Érard Company to demonstrate the wide expressive range of its double-action pedal harp. The full expressive range of the harp is fully showcased. This enchanting performance surfs the evolving moods that Ravel expresses in the music. There's sadness in the opening bars, but later hope and optimism make their presence felt. Throughout, these expert players never lose sight of the narrative and the intricate shadings of light and dark. The work has been well-served in the recording studios over the years, including three recordings featuring that magnificent French harpist Lily Laskine. This performance is as good as any.

It was the French Flautist René le Roy who prompted Roussel to compose his Sérénade for flute, string trio and harp. The year was 1925, and le Roy received the dedication. It was one of several works whereby Roussel enriched the flute repertoire. It’s remained popular to this day and is oft performed by quintet ensembles. This is a spellbinding performance of supreme sensitivity and virtuosity. The long-breathed melody for flute in the central Andante movement is ravishingly shaped and played by Christian Lardé. The finale is great fun, with stirring plucked rhythms, irrepressible energy and debonair joie de vivre, all dispatched with pep and pizazz.

The sunny climes of Florent Schmitt’s Suite en rocaille radiate an uplifting feeling whenever I listen to it. The influence of Debussy is immediately evident in its impressionistic bias. The composer's colourful harmonic palette is deftly applied. The performance has energy, vitality, elegance and carefree charm, and the melodies are irresistible.

His Clavecin obtempérant is a rarity if ever there was one. As far as I'm aware it’s never been recorded commercially. It consists of a four-movement suite for harpsichord, written for the esteemed French harpsichord soloist and teacher Marcelle de Lacour, a student of Wanda Landowska. The title of the work, Clavecin obtempérant, Op. 107 (“The Ill-Tempered Clavier”) has a tongue-in-cheek element. De Lacour premiered the work at a Société National de Musique recital on February 26, 1946. On July 11, 1957 she gave the performance we have here in the studios of French National Radio, which was broadcast nationally. The movements are marked: I. Modéré et très rythmé; II. Vif; III. Un peu lent; IV. Animé. A robust score, it's polytonal and polyrhythmic. Initially, I found it a hard nut to crack, but multiple listenings ultimately paid dividends. The wonderful instrument used in the performance adds further to the success of this compelling performance. To record producers out there, I think we need a modern recording.

The ensemble has been well-recorded, and the source copies of the Erato and The Musical Heritage Society LPs have yielded fresh, vibrant results. There are no notes, but plenty of websites referred to on the back tray for further information.

Stephen Greenbank

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