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Déodat de SÉVERAC (1872-1921)
En Languedoc (1903-04) [34:03]
Cerdaña (1908-11) [34:20]
Le Chant de la Terre (1900-01) [24:59]
Les Naïades et le Faune indiscret (1908) [8:38]
Baigneuses au soleil (1908) [7:24]
Sous les lauriers roses (1919) [16:40]
En vacances (1911-21) [34:57]
Stances à Madame Pompadour (1907) [6:43]
Pippermint-Get [5:04]
Le Soldat de plomb (1904) [14:02]
Ma poupée chérie [3:29]
François-Michel Rignol (piano)
rec. 2011, la chapelle du domaine de Bayssan à Béziers, France
SOLSTICE SOCD306/8 [3 CDs: 190:29]

I’ve previously had very little exposure to the music of Déodat de Séverac (Sévérac in some sources), and for those in a similar situation or acquainting themselves for the first time, he was a contemporary of Debussy, Fauré, and Ravel, but never attained their fame. He was born in Saint-Félix-de-Caraman, Haute-Garonnein in 1872, a descendant of a noble family. After initial training in Toulouse, he went to Paris to study with Vincent d'Indy and Albéric Magnard at the Schola Cantorum. He also took organ lessons from Alexandre Guilmant and worked as an assistant to Isaac Albéniz. He spent most of his short life in the Languedoc region of southern France, dying in Céret, Pyrénées-Orientales, Roussillon in 1921, aged only 47.

The two groups of pieces on CD1 take their inspiration from the surrounding area in the South of France where the composer eventually settled. We open with En Languedoc (1903-04), a group of five pieces. Evocative and fragrant, Rignol captures the myriad hues of each with his subtle pedaling and magical touch. We begin with the glistening tendrils of Vers le Mas en Fête, impressionistic in sound. Sur l'étang, le soir, which follows, is painted in darker shades. A cheval, dans la prairie records the rhythmic gallop of a horse. Coin de cimetière, au printemps is profound and meditative, whilst Le Jour de la Foire, au Mas has an upbeat and carefree demeanour. We then travel west towards the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees to the area known to the French as Cerdagne and the Spanish as Cerdaña. The suite of five pieces known as Cerdaña dates from 1908-1911 and is subtitled Five picturesque studies for piano. The writing is more highly developed than that in En Languedoc. It’s imbued throughout with a captivating Spanish flavour, and explores a variety of contrasting moods. The music takes us on a journey, where we take in the countryside along the way. We encounter festivals, musicians and religious worshippers on our travels. All is encapsulated in this magnificent score.

Virgilʼs Georgics provides the inspiration for Le Chant de la terre, dating from 1900-01. The skill and mastery achieved in these pieces is quite remarkable, as Séverac was still a student at the time of their composition. The suite consists of seven evocative miniatures, each highly original. Prologue and Le labour are serious minded, whilst Les semailles is rather impressionistic, with Rignol achieving an array of sensual colours. Épilogue, which ends the cycle, captures the festive spirit of a wedding celebration.
There are two sets of En vacances (On Holiday). The first, subtitled Au Château et dans le Parc consists of an invocation to Schumann, followed by seven short pieces of moderate difficulty, penned around 1911 and each dedicated to a friend or relation. Maybe Schumann’s Kinderszenen was the point of departure. The whole cycle generates a feeling of warmth and intimacy with such titles as ‘Grandma’s Caresses’, ‘The Little Girls from Next Door’, ‘Games in the Park’ and ‘Old Music Box’. The second set consists of just three pieces, the second being completed by Blanche Selva. The first is titled La Fontaine de Chopin, an endearing waltz evoking the spirit of Chopin. The second portrays a ‘Dove fountain’ and the third evokes ‘The Three Musketeers’. From a pianistic point of view, this second set seems more technically challenging.

Rignol achieves radiance and refulgence in the impressionistic Baigneuses au soleil, and there’s ample glistening filigree, too. Stances à Madame de Pompadour dates from 1907, adopts a claveciniste style and delights for its simplicity. The waltz Pippermint-Get, a homage to Auguste Get, inventor of the famous drink, is another charmer.

François-Michel Rignol’s beautifully recorded performances, with the piano well-captured, make a compelling case for these intriguing scores. His probing accounts will, I’ve no doubt, win these rarities many friends, as did his recording of Marcel Dupré’s complete piano music, which I reviewed back in 2017, and also worth exploring. Soltice have provided an excellent booklet in French and English, with detailed descriptions of the works featured by Lionel Pons.

All told, this enticing piano music, subtle and sophisticated, is worthy of your attention.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Dominy Clements

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