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Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
rec. 2019-2021, Studio Gérard Guilloury; Studio Sequenza, Montreuil, France
CALLIOPE CAL2189 [76:27]

Philippe Gaubert’s music may feature prominently on the radar of flautists, but to many he’s not that well-known. In addition to being a distinguished performer on the flute, a favourite pupil of Paul Taffanel, he also forged a career as a composer and conductor. During his life he held three important roles, which placed him at the forefront of French musical life: Professor of flute in the Conservatoire de Paris (teacher of Marcel Moyse); Principal conductor of the Paris Opéra and Principal conductor of the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. These positions absorbed a good portion of his time, so he was something of a ‘weekend composer’ who amassed an oeuvre of around eighty compositions, many incorporating the flute. In this intriguing collection of ‘Miniatures’, flute repertoire plays a prominent role.

Focusing on the flute repertoire, the Fantasie Fugue for flute and piano dates from 1912. The Fantasie is improvisatory in character, with the Fugue taking its inspiration from the allegro fugato of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No 5 in D major. Two years later, Gaubert penned his Philotis for flute and piano. It derives from a flute solo the composer wrote for himself to be performed in a ballet score. Here the orchestral accompaniment is reduced for piano. The four movement Suite of 1921 is the most substantial work for flute and piano on the disc. Titled Invocation (Danse des prêtresses), Berceuse orientale, Barcarolle and Scherzo-valse, these short pieces fuse lyrical largesse with more exotic elements. François Bru performs these captivating scores with disarming skill, virtuosity and infectious zeal.

The songs are a delight. The five Chansons pour me consoler d'être heureux are late settings of poems by Paul Fort, dating from 1937.
1. Complainte des soldats
2. Complainte du petit cheval blanc
3. Les Boules de neige
4. La Ronde
5. L'Adieu en barque

Strangely, the fifth song was left unpublished at the composer’s death. I particularly like No 3, which pitches impressionistic piano writing against melancholic utterances. No 4, La Ronde, makes a fitting contrast, with its spirited joy. No 5 employs dark sonorities on the piano. The Two Poems from Paul Arosa (1935) are infused with complex harmonic writing. The vocal items are eloquently sung by soprano Marie-Louise Duthoi, accompanied by Laurence Disse on piano. It’s a pity that texts and translations aren’t included in the booklet.

There are two fairly substantial pieces for viola and piano. The earliest is the Poème élégiaque, originally for saxophone and orchestra, then for viola and orchestra. This arrangement for viola and piano has been undertaken by Laurence Disse, who assumes the piano role on this recording. The work, suffused with rapt intensity, fully exploits the colour palette of the viola. The Ballade for viola and piano, composed in 1937, is fervent, passionate, free-flowing and spontaneous in its writing.

The two solo piano pieces are here receiving their World Premiere Recordings. They span from either end of Gaubert’s compositional career. The Pavane (1906) is in reality the composer’s only solo piano work, a melodic morsel radiating genteel simplicity. The Prelude from 1925 is a piano transcription by the composer’s brother Lucien of a short piece for small orchestra.

The Cantabile and Scherzetto for cornet and piano (1909) was commissioned by a certain Professor Jean Joseph Mellet. It rides the high wire of ‘dangerous off-beats’, and here receives a reading of pizzazz and sparkle by Eric Aubier.

These beautifully recorded performances will do much to enhance and rehabilitate the reputation of this long-forgotten composer. For those setting out on the journey of discovery, this welcome release bids fair to offer the newcomer an ideal primer.

For those wishing to explore further, the Timpani label has done much to champion this little-known composer. In fact their recordings were my introduction. Several have been reviewed in these pages (review ~ review ~ review).

Stephen Greenbank

Ballade pour alto et piano (1937) [8:27]
Cantabile et scherzetto pour cornet à pistons et piano (1909) [4:50]
Pavane pour piano (1906) [3:27]*
Fantaisie fugue pour flûte et piano (1912) [7:50]*
Chansons pour me consoler d'être heureux (1937) [8:14]
Poème élégiaque pour alto et piano (1911) [10:52]*
Inédit pour flûte et piano (1901) [3:02]*
Deux poèmes de Paul Arosa (1935) [5:37]*
Philotis pour flûte et piano (1914)[2:03]*
Prélude pour piano (1925) [4:43]*
Suite pour flûte et piano (1921) [12:18]
Sur l'eau pour flûte et piano d'après Augustin Lefort (1903) [4:55]*

Premiere Recordings*

Marie-Louise Duthoit, soprano
François Bru, flute
Eric Aubier, cornet
Benoît Marin, alto
Laurence Disse, piano
Pascal Gallet, piano
Ariane Gendrat, piano
Catherine Legrand, piano
Gérard Guilloury, piano

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