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Soir Païen
Alexis Kossenko (flute)
Anna Reinhold (mezzo-soprano)
Emmanuel Olivier (piano)
Sabine Devieilhe (soprano)
Magali Mosnier (flute)
rec. 2019, Eglise luthérienne Saint Pierre, Paris
APARTÉ AP227 [68:00]

Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune begins with perhaps the most celebrated flute solo in the whole of the orchestral repertoire. Debussy and Ravel both feature in this collection, but the programme is otherwise composed of works by their lesser-known contemporaries. A lengthy and informative booklet note by David Le Marrec explains how these composers were fascinated by ancient Greece, and how that fascination is linked to their enthusiasm for the flute. The programme is beautifully performed. Alexis Kossenko’s flute playing is beyond reproach, and Emmanuel Olivier provides immaculate accompaniments in works that only rarely give him the opportunity to shine. French is an ungrateful language for a singer, and I was beginning to worry that the impeccable diction of artists such as Gérard Souzay was beginning to die out. What a pleasure, then, to report that both Anna Reinhold and Sabine Devieilhe project the texts perfectly, adding to the pleasure already provided by their lovely voices. The disc is beautifully recorded, with a satisfying balance between the different performers. The ideas behind these works, and the nature of the flute itself, does mean that drama is in short supply, the composers preferring the languorous and pensive. The works are consistently both interesting and beautiful, but many listeners will prefer to make a selection rather than hear the whole recital in a single sitting.

Philippe Gaubert’s Soir Païen is a pleasantly melodious song, like pale Debussy, and makes an agreeable curtain-raiser. The second of Ibert’s two songs for voice and flute – ‘They tell me: You must not marry her. All the omens agree.’ Wisely or not, he doesn’t listen – features a brilliant flutter-tonguing flute part that leads into Caplet’s lovely song, by turns pastoral and exultant. Collectors need to be pretty clued up and enthusiastic about minor twentieth-century French composers to have much music by Maurice Emmanuel in their collection. The three songs that make up the Odelettes anacréontiques are set to renaissance French texts written in the style of the ancient Greek poet, Anacreon, whose works frequently celebrate wine, or love, or both. In the first, ‘Au Printemps’, Spring is celebrated as the time when wine begins to flow. The second, on the other hand, is an ode to the cicada, heard in the pianist’s constantly moving right hand. Low flute notes add to the texture, and the whole cycle, short though it is, is a particularly happy synthesis of voice, flute and piano. The final song, ‘A la rose’, has a flute part that soars high above the voice and the constant 1-2-3 waltz rhythm in the piano. In all, a delightful discovery.

Caplet features again with ‘Ecoute, mon cœur’, for flute and voice, to a poem by Tagore. The flute is the protagonist in the poem, and becomes so in the song. It may well be that the instrument has acquired a greater French sensibility than was the poet’s original vision, but the piece is extremely affecting none the less. Then we have the second song from Ravel’s Shéhérazade. Everything about the performance is right, yet skilfully as Emmanuel Olivier plays the piano transcription, it can only be a pale imitation of Ravel’s orchestration. A piano tremolando is no substitute for the same thing, ppp, from the strings; and a single stroke on the triangle – a potent example of Ravel’s miraculous orchestral imagination – is a tragic loss.

The first movement of Koechlin’s Sonata for Two Flutes has the two instruments moving in solemn counterpoint after a lengthy introduction from one of them alone. The tiny middle movement is lively, with something of the character of an archaic dance. The finale begins with more rapid music before the earnest opening material returns. Magali Mosnier joins Kossenko for this work.

Roussel’s Deux Poèmes de Ronsard was composed, like Ravel’s Ronsard à son âme, for a publication to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the poet’s birth. In the first, the poet compares his unhappy amorous situation to that of the nightingale. Unsurprisingly, the flute plays the part of the nightingale, chirruping happily above the vocal line even as the poet complains of the bitter wound in his heart. The second song also features a disappointed lover, this time finding comfort in the beauty of nature and the calm of the countryside. A gentle, lilting rhythm in the flute part brings consolation. This short work is Sabine Devieilhe’s only outing in this collection, and a beautiful job she makes of it.

Roussel’s Les joueurs de flûte is a suite of four pieces for flute and piano in which each of the four movements is named after a mythical or fictional flautist. ‘Pan’ shows off his talents with arabesques and runs, whereas ‘Krishna’ skilfully avoids both European scales and picture-postcard orientalism. The Orient also features in Hommage à Roussel. Many collectors will have encountered the music of Maurice Delage via Janet Baker’s ravishing singing of his Quatre Poèmes hindous on a Oiseau-Lyre disc from the 1960s. Here he sets a poem by René Chalupt that deals with Roussel the traveller rather than Roussel the musician. Delage finds music that perfectly complements these unpromising words: this short piece is one of the most substantial in terms of musical content.

Debussy’s celebrated Syrinx evokes Pan’s very own flute. The work is presented here in a manner close to its original purpose, the music serving as a background to a long spoken text by Gabriel Mourey in which a naiad is seduced by the quality of Pan’s piping. This leads directly into Koechlin’s song about a water lily. The opening, setting the scene, is still and rather sombre, but this soon flowers into something much more lyrical and rather beautiful. The flute plays only twice, the second time after the singer has finished, returning to the earlier mood.

The recital ends with another Soir païen. It is pleasant and tuneful with a flowing piano part; and it will, I imagine, mark the first appearance of George Hüe, composer of operas and one-time winner of the coveted Prix de Rome, in listeners’ collections. It makes a delightful end to a delightful collection.

William Hedley

Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
Soir Païen (1908) [3:35]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Deux Stèles orientées (1925) [4:45]
André CAPLET (1878-1925)
Viens! une flûte invisible (1924) [2:53]
Maurice EMMANUEL (1862-1938)
Trois Odelettes anacréontiques (1911) [7:43]
Ecoute, mon cœur (1924) [3:34]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Shéhérazade : La Flûte enchantée (1903) [2:49]
Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Sonata for Two Flutes (1920) [8:52]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Deux Poèmes de Ronsard (1924) [8:29]
Les Joueurs de flûte (1924) [9:28]
Maurice DELAGE (1879-1961)
Hommage à Roussel (1929) [3:37]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Syrinx (1918) [3:04]
Le Nénuphar (1897) [5:18]
Georges HÜE (1858-1948)
Soir païen (1898) [3:25]

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