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DUO: Koechlin-Schmitt-Rivier-Cartan-Bozza

Audiophile Audition
15 octobre 2013

French composers made wind music their own special province in the twentieth century. Here we have a sampling of a diverse group of Frenchmen who had that special relationship with wind instruments; in fact, one of them, Eugène Bozza, of Italian-French extraction, is known today almost exclusively for his charming chamber pieces for winds. Blow the Winds Northerly adds two Moravian composers to the mix, and the difference in esthetics between these gents and the Frenchmen is a study in itself.

Though the French composers represented on the album entitled Duo are, indeed, diverse in their musical influences and tastes, a number of them embraced musical archaism, one of the trends very much in the air in the first half of the twentieth century. Charles Koechlin, a strange bird by any classification, went very resolutely his own highly idiosyncratic way in his music. If you’re familiar with his most famous piece, The Jungle Book, which occupied Koechlin for almost twenty years, is a compendium of the styles that the composer essayed in his career. Endlessly eclectic, he seemed to incorporate every modern musical trend from Impressionism to serialism in his many works, but strangely he eschewed neoclassicism—maybe because he had no time for Stravinsky and his music. But Koechlin shared with other French composers, including those influenced by Stravinskian neoclassicism, an attraction to old music, which informs the Sonatine modale and Motets de style antique. The latter piece is made up of fifteen separate movements, some for vocal ensemble, some for winds. The first piece represented here, Chanson, is modeled on a motet by twelfth-century French composer Léonin and designed “to familiarize the ear with medieval sonorities.” Highly contrapuntal, it does all that, seeming at the antipodes from the neoclassical aesthetic. As well as an attraction to counterpoint, the Sonatine shows Koechlin’s affection for French folk melody. The brief Pastorale, the only completed movement from what was supposed to be a longer work, is languid and tender, showing the early influence of the Impressionists and of his teacher, Gabriel Fauré. Characteristically, the Monodies for solo clarinet are all over the place, some are like French folk or patriotic tunes, some highly angular, skirting atonality.

I’m intrigued by the music of Florent Schmitt, whose earlier works such as La tragédie de Salomé (1907) improbably but successfully combined Impressionist sonorities with larger-than-life late-Romantic musical gestures recalling Richard Strauss. On this program, Schmitt is represented by the much later (1934) Sonatine en trio, which shows the influence of neoclassicism and celebrates twentieth century composers’ rediscovery of the harpsichord. The piece was premiered on a program that also featured Manuel de Falla’s spiky neoclassical Harpsichord Concerto. A bit less spiky, the Schmitt is appealingly fresh and vital.

Eugène Bozza’s work (1974), the most recent on the program, illustrates the composer’s resistance to contemporary trends. Trois mouvements is a pretty, pastoral-sounding piece with a few more dissonances and a more wayward approach to melodic line than Koechlin allowed himself, but it doesn’t sound out of company with Koechlin’s 1925 Pastorale. Clarinetist Jean-Guy Boisvert, who wrote the notes to this recording, is reminded of the coloration of Ravel, and that strikes me as a fair assessment, especially of the final Allegro giocoso.

The inclusion of Jean Cartan’s Sonatine is bittersweet. The work is fluent, fluid, cool in the opening Pastorale and following Berceuse, jaunty in the final Rondeau. It displays the craftsmanship of Cartan’s teacher Paul Dukas, the emotional detachment and parodic wit of Stravinsky, who after all helped spearhead the neoclassical movement with a work for winds, his Octet of 1920. Why bittersweet? Because this piece bespeaks a real talent and predicts even fine things that were not to be; Cartan died the year after completing the work in 1931 at age twenty-six.

The performances here, by French Canadian musicians (two of whom studied in France as well as Canada), are perfectly idiomatic and lovingly played. Given Atma’s intimate yet nicely resonant recording set down in Salle Françoys-Bernier in Quebec, this is a treat for wind fanciers, Francophiles, and just about anyone else with a taste for finely honed, small-scale chamber music with a French accent.


Lee Passarella - Audiophile Audition

Le Journal de Montréal
27 juillet 2013

Le répertoire du tandem clarinette-flûte étant tellement rare, profitons de cette nouveauté qui est aussi une invitation au repos. Entre Jean-Guy Boisvert, professeur de musique à l'Université de Moncton et la flûtiste Christiane Laflamme, vice-doyenne aux études à l'interprétation (UM), sans oublier le claveciniste Jean-Willy Kunz, l'union est parfaite comme le propos musical. Autour de plusieurs sonates, mouvements, motets et sonatines, que de petites douceurs qui se dégustent lentement et mieux encore, le sentiment de découvertes.
Christophe Rodriguez - Le Journal de Montréal