Roorda Plays Composers of 1920s France

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FLUTE MUSIC FROM THE HARLEQUIN YEARS / BRÉVILLE: Une flûte dans les vergers. DUKAS: La plainte, au loin, du faune…Tombeau de Claude Debussy (arr. Samazeuilh). ROUSSEL: Andante & Scherzo. IBERT: Jeux. HONEGGER: Danse de la chèvre. Vocalise-Étude (arr. de Reede). MILHAUD: Flute Sonatina. AURIC: Aria. POULENC: Villanelle.* TANSMAN: Flute Sonatina. HARSÁNYI: 3 Pieces for Piano & Flute. ANTHEIL: Flute Sonata / Thies Roorda, fl/*pic; Alessandro Scorresi, pno / Naxos 8.579045

Dutch flautist Thies Roorda plays here a fairly lengthy program of mostly short pieces by composers active in France during the 1920s, although the Roussel and Poulenc pieces date from 1934 and Antheil’s flute sonata from fairly late in his career, 1951. The odd man out, for me, is Tibor Harsányi, a Hungarian composer who studied with both Bartók and Kodály, though he, along with Tansman, Tcherepnin and Martinů, helped form the L’École de Paris. His 3 Pieces for Flute, along with the piece by Bréville, are first recordings. The album’s title derives from the pamphlet Le Coq et l’Harlequin published by Jean Cocteau in 1918 in which he attacked both Wagner and Debussy complaining that “Impressionism is a Wagnerian backlash.” Well, so much for that.

Pierre de Bréville, the oldest composer presented here, was actually a pupil of Franck and Théodore Dubois who taught harmony at the Schola Cantorum and the Paris Conservatoire, thus he was clearly not as actively involved in the drive to change music over to a new aesthetic. Rather, he represented the “old” French school that was pre-Debussy. His piece is very pretty with the first two and a half minutes played a cappella by Roorda, but not something that sticks in the ear despite a bit of development at the halfway mark. It sounds like generic classical music radio fare.

Dukas, though only a few years younger than Bréville, was clearly a more modern composer, and his La plainte has some interesting chromatic harmonies in it.and, at several points, allusions to Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, so he was clearly a fan of the Impressionist style and therefore doesn’t fit into this group either. Roussel’s Andante & Scherzo also has some resemblance to the Impressionist style, but with the composer’s own twists on it.

Only with Ibert’s whimsical, somewhat Stravinsky-inspired Jeux do we finally hear the kind of music that Cocteau apparently preferred: energetic, whimsical, and inventive. The Honegger piece is completely for solo flute, and has some interesting, quirky rhythmic interruptions to its long flute lines, scored in almost modal harmonies. Yet the follow-up Vocalise is clearly impressionistic. I bring this up not as a criticism of the music, only to point out that the title of the album is misleading. Many of these pieces respect impressionism; they do not reject it.

That being said, Milhaud’s Flute Sonatina is a wonderful piece by a composer who clearly stepped outside the impressionist world of his time and stayed outside of it. I particularly liked the sprightly last movement. Poulenc’s Villanelle for piccolo and piano is lovely but, to my ears, less interesting than most of his piano music. Happily, we get something meatier in Alexandre Tansman’s Flute Sonata, a wonderfully energetic piece with fine themes and good invention—but, in the second movement, yet more allusions to impressionism. Ah, those darn Wagnerians! In the third movement, Tansman gives us a jazzy foxtrot.

Harsányi’s flute pieces clearly reflect the influence of Kodály and Bartók; they’re soundly composed, with some interesting harmonic shifts using rootless chords, and quite atmospheric. The Antheil piece, like much of his later music, still has some harmonic surprises in it and a good dose of American rhythm, but it’s not nearly as edgy or unconventional as his earlier style from the 1920s and ‘30s. Still, it’s good to hear it; it’s a well-crafted piece.

Roorda has a lovely tone but, to my ears, plays in a flat, uninflected style that gives very little energy to these pieces. I was, however, very impressed by pianist Alessandro Scorresi, who consistently lifts the rhythm and plays with great joy.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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