Schmitt was a very close contemporary of Vaughan Williams and in an occasional
pastoralism there are some parallels between the two composers. The two are
pictured together in OUPs pictorial biography of the British Composer.
The Sonate Libre is a free-wheeling violin sonata in two lanky rhapsodic
movements over a 30 minute span. It dates from the years just after the Great
War ended and was written in the Pyrenees. It is a spiritual cousin of Herbert
Howells' Piano Quartet though ultimately much freer and wide-ranging in its
impressionism and bejewelled sounds. Frank Bridge's more impressionistic
chamber works (pre-1920s) also come to mind. The big tune can be heard in
full unfolding splendour from 8:20 (Track 1). To the British voices can be
added the influence of Ravel and Debussy. There is none of the oriental grandeur
of his big set-piece scores such as Psalm XLVII or Tragédie de
Salomé. The Animé second and final movements are full of delicate
fantasy in a voice familiar from Ravel's Mother Goose and, for those who
know it, Josef Holbrooke's Sonate Orientale. At 15:02 Schmitt brings us full
circle with a recollection of the strikingly nostalgic theme from the first
movement. This is a sort of Lark Ascending ... but over the Pyrenees.
The Three Rapsodies (1903) for two pianos are 'picture postcards'
of France (a Chabrier-emulating valse), Poland (a Chopin-type mazurka) and
Vienna (a Johann Strauss waltz) in 23 minutes. These offer classic bon-bouches
for both performers and listeners. The music is not profound but deft and
colourful, sounding like a cross between Godowsky and Saint-Saens. Schmitt
wrote a large number of works for this medium. He orchestrated the present
set and the Rapsodie Viennoise became a popular concert item. Claude Michel
and his associates are embarking on an 'intégrale' spanning the complete
two piano/piano duet output over 15 CDs.
Hasards is a 4-movement piano quartet (circa 15 mins) dedicated to
another neglected hero of the French musical renaissance, Guy-Ropartz. It
was premiered in 1943. The work is fey and flighty, influenced by Ravel's
string quartet, the first two (of 4) movements especially. The third is a
twilight berçeuse in the hinterland between sleep and waking. In this
work Schmitt often made me think of the chamber music of Arnold Bax. The
final Bourrée is marked 'impétueux' and there is a heady dash
and intoxication to the proceedings and to the jerky hiccuping theme which
unfolds in Howellsian majesty at the close.
Excellent notes by Benoit Duteurtre
I am not familiar with these works in other performances but the artists
here seem completely engaged and concentrated.
Recommended for the Schmitt explorer, the French music enthusiast and the
chamber music fan who would like to push the boundaries of her or his knowledge
outwards into unusual territory.
Rewarding and varied listening. An excellent production by Auvidis Valois.
NOTE AND PLEA When will someone record Schmitt's impressive
Introduction, Récit et Congé a 25 minute work for
cello and orchestra. It is one of the few orchestral works by Schmitt which
has not as yet been recorded commercially.