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French Flute Chamber Music - Pierne, Francaix, Roussel, Etc / Mirage Quintet

Release Date: 08/25/2009 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570444   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Marcel TournierFlorent SchmittGabriel PiernéAlbert Roussel,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mirage Quintet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

FRENCH FLUTE CHAMBER MUSIC Mirage Qnt NAXOS 8.570444 (63:53)

TOURNIER Suite, op. 34. SCHMITT Suite en rocaille. PIERNÉ Variations libres et finale. FRANÇAIX Quintette. ROUSSEL Read more Sérénade, op. 40

With the exception of Jean Françaix (1912—1997), all of these composers straddled the 19th and 20th centuries, and these works were composed in the 1920s and 1930s. (I can’t find information anywhere about when Tournier composed his Suite, but I bet it comes from one of those two decades.) It surprised me that so many works have been written for flute, harp, and string trio, and this CD doesn’t include others it could have, such as a Quintet by Jean Cras and Prélude, marine, et chanson by Joseph Guy Ropartz. It is a graceful combination of instruments, however, and one that seems particularly French.

None of the music on this CD is deep, but hearing it is like walking through an exhibit of antique jewelry. Marcel Tournier, a harpist as well as a composer, gives that instrument a particularly prominent role in his Suite, which opens with the Debussy-like “Soir,” and continues with a brief “Danse” (marked naïvement ), a murmured “Lied” (where did the Germans come from?), and a springy and once again Debussy-like “Fête.” Florent Schmitt’s Suite en rocaille (an allusion to a decorative form of stonework) also is in four movements, and pays a smaller debt to impressionism than the Tournier. Its more purpose-driven writing suggests Ravel, a fellow Apache , and also looks back toward Fauré, who was Schmitt’s mentor. The Variations libres et finale by Gabriel Pierné, strategically located in the middle of the program, offer more substance, although from time to time it sounds as if it were about to turn into Debussy’s Danses sacrée et profane . Jean Françaix’s Quintette alternates two adorably lazy movements with two that are perky and more typical of this fun-loving composer’s style. Finally, Albert Roussel’s sophisticated Sérénade speaks in the composer’s distinctive voice, which is both exotic and neo-Classical.

The members of the Mirage Quintet are Robert Aitken (flute), Erica Goodman (harp), Jacques Israelivitch (violin), Teng Li (viola), and Winona Zelenka (cello). Regardless of where they were born, the musicians all are active in the Toronto area, and Li and Zelenka are principals in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. There is a video on YouTube of this ensemble recording the third movement of the Tournier—at www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5fQNwKKig4—and if you need more encouragement before making the decision to purchase this CD, the video probably will supply it. Sometimes Aitken’s flute is not as prominent as I would like it to be, but the performances are atmospheric and beyond reproach. The booklet notes are acceptable, although not as helpful as they might be. This disc might be too much for one sitting. Its parts are delicious, however.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle

Soft bliss, unbelievably good.

The man who first combined gin and tonic was either smart or lucky. The man who first blended a flute and a harp was a genius. Their voices combine like perfumes in the air. Add the three string instruments to the cocktail - and you get a wondrous ensemble, very economical in means, yet powerful in expression. It also furnishes a richer palette of sonorities than the good old string or piano quartet. The three strings cover the plane of pitches and provide counterpoint; the flute adds a third dimension to the timbre; the harp brings the magic.

And what is it so inherently French in this flute-harp marriage? Did this association start with Mozart's colorful concerto, written in Paris or during some Afternoon of a Fawn? I can't say, but this combination seems to be owned by the French. Clarity, wit, elegance: all properties associated with the French music of the XIX and early XX century and all naturally spoken in the flute-harp language.

It is very good that you are reading this now because maybe I have a chance to make a point and convince you what a wonderful disc this is. Will you believe me if I say that I absolutely love every minute of it? That it's definitely one of the best discs I have heard in the last year, maybe even the best. One can't guess it from the name: the album's dry title could come from a scientific magazine. But under this modest lid there are treasures.

If I had to describe it in just one word, the word would be charm. That applies equally to the compositions and to the performances. Yes, the five pieces by the five composers have much in common. They inhabit similar universes and styles though the Roussel stands apart. They share a lot: aesthetics, vigor, sensuality, variability, sparkle. It is bad to share all this? They all have this distinctive French flavor. The Quartets of Debussy and Ravel were without doubt a major influence, as must have been Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet. Maybe it would be wiser for the listener to pause between the works, digesting them one by one, refreshing the receptors. If you are holding a smile for too long it may become unnatural.

Marcel Tournier's Suite is inventive and sensual. Languid melodies fill the air, with soft evening sun, seagull cries, and sudden gusts of wind. It is a very atmospheric piece, instantly likable. Every turn presents to us a new tonal tint. From such a master of harp as Tournier was, one could expect putting more accent on the harp - but no, it is all fair, with true chamber interplay. Schmitt's Suite en rocaille is a modern rococo piece, elegant and playful. The fabric is denser, harmonies are more advanced, and some melodies are just irresistible. He had a melodic gift for sure. Pierné's Variations libres et finale are more conservative and introspective. The masterfully crafted variations flow without breaks. It is like following the course of a forest stream, watching the changes of glittering patterns on the water.

Jean Françaix was only 20 when he wrote his delightful Quintette. Under ten minutes, it is concentrated happiness. You'll want to join the cheeky dance of the Scherzo, and the Rondo is a whirlwind. Last comes the Sérénade by Albert Roussel, the most modern-sounding piece on the disc. Now we are in the 20th century for certain! The music is neo-classical, quirky, and harmonically adventurous, without the suavity of the preceding works. The middle movement has otherworldly calmness, while the framing movements sparkle with insistent rhythms.

The recording is demonstration-class, ideally capturing both the flute's highest leaps and the harp's resonating echoes. Liner-notes by Renée Silberman, in English and French, succeed in providing concentrated information in limited space. The Naxos price is unbeatable. But above all, what makes this disc so special, is the playing, the blending, the balance, the surprises, the turns and twists, the flow, the airiness, the soft bliss granted by the Mirage Quintet. Probably an ad hoc group, this happened to be one of those chamber ensembles that add up to much more than the sum of its parts, although each and every one is obviously a solid virtuoso. I take all my hats off!

-- Oleg Ledeniov, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Suite for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello and Harp, Op. 34 by Marcel Tournier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mirage Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
Length: 13 Minutes 10 Secs. 
Suite en rocaille, Op. 84 by Florent Schmitt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mirage Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
Length: 13 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Variations libres et finale, Op. 51 by Gabriel Pierné
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mirage Quintet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1933; France 
Length: 10 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Serenade for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello and Harp, Op. 30 by Albert Roussel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mirage Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; France 
Length: 15 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Quintette: 1. Andante tranquillo by Jean Françaix
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mirage Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; France 
Length: 2 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Quintette: 2. Scherzo by Jean Françaix
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mirage Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; France 
Length: 2 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Quintette: 3. Andante by Jean Françaix
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mirage Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; France 
Length: 2 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Quintette: 4. Rondo by Jean Françaix
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mirage Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; France 
Length: 1 Minutes 37 Secs. 

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