Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Florent Schmitt - La petit elfe Ferme-l'oeil; Introït, récit et congé (Jacques Mercier)


Composer: Florent Schmitt
  1. Le petit elfe Ferme-l'œil, ballet, Op. 73: Prélude
  2. Le petit elfe Ferme-l'œil, ballet, Op. 73: La Fête nationale des souris (The Festival of the Mice)
  3. Le petit elfe Ferme-l'œil, ballet, Op. 73: La Cigogne lasse (The Dyspeptic Stork)
  4. Le petit elfe Ferme-l'œil, ballet, Op. 73: Le Cheval de Ferme-l'œil (The Sandman’s Horse)
  5. Le petit elfe Ferme-l'œil, ballet, Op. 73: Le Mariage de la poupée Berthe (The Marriage of the Doll)
  6. Le petit elfe Ferme-l'œil, ballet, Op. 73: La Ronde des lettres boiteuses (The Round of the Obtuse Letters)
  7. Le petit elfe Ferme-l'œil, ballet, Op. 73: La Promenade à travers le tableau (The Promenade across the Picture)
  8. Le petit elfe Ferme-l'œil, ballet, Op. 73: Le Parapluie chinois (The Chinese Umbrella)
  9. Introït, récit et congé, for cello & orchestra, Op. 113

Aline Martin, mezzo-soprano (1-8)
Henri Demarquette, cello (9)
Orchestre National de Lorraine
Jacques Mercier, conductor

Date: 2013
Label: Timpani



Although Florent Schmitt (1870–1958) can be thought of as a member of the Impressionist generation (Debussy was eight years his senior, Ravel five years younger), in many respects he can also be seen as a kind of anti-Impressionist due to his close ties to the German school of Strauss, and the Russians such as Rimsky-Korsakov and even Scriabin and early Stravinsky. Even though he made use of the harmonic and textural devices of his French contemporaries (the parallels with the three-years-older Koechlin could also be interesting), delicacy and nuance were only a couple of his intermittent concerns as he meticulously constructed his enormous orchestral machines, full of tidal surges, anticipatory dread, and continuously unresolved climaxes. 

Although Schmitt wrote several grand-scale chamber music masterpieces such as the piano quintet, the string quartet, and the string trio as well as much music for piano duo, Schmitt’s heart—even in his works for small ensembles—was always drawn to the spectacle and excess of a theatrical ambience as seen in his mastery of the “symphonic ballet,” as documented in this first recording of his 1923 orchestral expansion of an earlier duo-piano suite of seven pieces inspired by Hans Christian Andersen stories. These have been recorded several times, including a recent Timpani release; this writer has a fond recollection of the Robert and Gaby Casadesus vinyl recorded on Columbia, which were paired with the Three Rhapsodies (also later orchestrated by the composer). Schmitt was especially fond of transforming his keyboard works into orchestral showpieces, and in this case he added a prelude and brief mezzo solo in the sixth movement, turning the 20-minute original miniatures into a 40-minute orchestral fresco. Unlike Ravel’s relatively understated Mother Goose Suite (also based on a keyboard original), Schmitt’s boy-protagonist has a wild and sumptuous dream life. This is borne out by the dense and vivid orchestration conceived in the same vein and on the same scale as his Salomé, Salâmmbo, and Antony et Cléopatre. But, unlike these epic-erotic masterworks, the child-like focus seems to have brought out Schmitt’s more tenderly melodic propensities, thus endowing the score with quite a few good tunes. 

Filling out his release is another premiere recording of Schmitt’s approximation of a cello concerto, written in 1949 for Andre Navarra—Introit, Récit et Congé. My Parisian mother used the word “congé” as an equivalent for a short vacation or day off, while my French dictionary also mentions “playdate.” In any case, although the soloist is called upon at times for virtuoso display, Schmitt was never that given to concertante works without an accompanying programmatic occasion. (The closest he came to a “concerto” is the coruscating Sinfonia Concertante which he premiered as piano soloist in 1930 with the BSO under Koussevitzky.) In the present single-movement 13-minute work, the orchestra remains the star in Schmitt’s later more impersonal and manipulative manner, which was given its apotheosis almost 10 years later in his astonishing final work, the Second Symphony of 1958, premiered by Charles Munch in the composer’s presence just a few days before his passing. 

Production and performance values measure up to the high standards established time and again in recent years by France’s now premier label, Timpani, which can be accurately regarded as the French equivalent of Chandos in all respects. No Schmitt groupie can survive without this disk. 

-- Paul A. Snook, FANFARE

More reviews:


Florent Schmitt (28 September 1870 – 17 August 1958) was a French composer. He was part of the group known as Les Apaches. At the age of 19 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied with Gabriel Fauré, Jules Massenet, Théodore Dubois, and Albert Lavignac. Schmitt wrote 138 works with opus numbers. His most famous pieces are La tragédie de Salome and Psaume XLVII (Psalm 47). His own style, recognizably impressionistic, owed something to the example of Debussy, though it had distinct traces of Wagner and Richard Strauss also.


Jacques Mercier (born in Metz in 1945) is a French conductor. He studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and won first prize in 1972. Between 1982 and 2002, Mercier was artistic director and permanent conductor of the Orchestre National d’Île-de-France. He has also served as Resident Conductor of the Turku Philharmonic in Finland for seven years. he was appointed permanent conductor and musical director of the Orchestre National de Lorraine in 2002. He also appears in the films "L'effrontée" (1985) and "La femme de ma vie" (1986).


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