Notes and Editorial Reviews
À Tour d’anches
NAXOS 8.570489 (74: 03)
Most of us, if we know the music of Florent Schmitt (1870–1958) at all, are familiar with
La Tragédie de Salomé
and perhaps his setting of Psalm 47. The more of his music that I encounter, the more I find him an
extremely satisfying composer on the second rung from the top. Certainly Debussy and Ravel, and quite probably Fauré, occupy a higher rung, but that does not mean Schmitt should be easily dismissed. His music has character and a strong presence, and is brilliantly crafted. He wrote in a range of musical styles, as demonstrated by the wildly different works on this disc, but if that is a serious accusation against a composer, the first charges can be filed against Stravinsky.
The Piano Quintet is perhaps Schmitt’s best-known work after
and Psalm 47. Schmitt himself made an early recording of the slow movement, with the Calvet Quartet, and I have heard two other recordings of the complete work: the Bern Quartet and Walter Bärtschi on Accord, and the Stanislas Quartet with Christian Ivaldi on Timpani. This Naxos recording stands up to both of those, and in fact surpasses them. The Berliners pace the music perfectly, and their attention to dynamic gradations is spot-on. This is a big, post-Romantic piece of chamber music, almost an hour long, and for performers to hold our attention throughout requires concentration, careful balancing of voices so the melodic material is always clear, and sometimes a thinning out of the music’s thick textures. All of those qualities are present here.
If the Piano Quintet is a heavy, dramatic work with echoes of Franck or Chausson,
À Tour d’anches
is the opposite. It is a dry, witty, lighthearted work in the spirit of the lighter Milhaud, Françaix, or Ibert. It has sparkle to spare, and should charm any listener, especially in this alive, charming performance. The title seems to be translated in a few different ways, depending on the sources: “A Tower of Reeds” and “Around Reeds” are the two I’ve encountered most frequently—the “reeds” referring to the instruments for which the piece is scored (oboe, clarinet, and bassoon).
Anyone interested in exploring out-of-the-way French repertoire should consider this disc. I have continued to enjoy it immensely on repeated hearing. Excellent, clean, well-balanced recorded sound and helpful notes round out the production.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
A tour d'anches, Op. 97 by Florent Schmitt
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1939-1943; France
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