Paris: La Belle Epoque
Robert Langevin, flute. Margaret Kampmeier, piano.
Bridge Records 9555
Total Time: 77:17
Robert Langevin, the Canadian-born acclaimed flautist has put together an extensive recital exploring solo works from the French Belle Epoque. The album includes both some familiar repertoire and, certainly, familiar composers though admittedly a couple are quite unexpected and welcome surprises. The era is one that is filled with some of the greatest of French Music. It has the arrival of French Romantic style, the blend of Wagnerisms that would provide one thread into Impressionist style with the addition of church modes and global scales adding another potential for musical exploration. These realities are what often makes the music stand out from its more familiar Germanic counterparts and there is always a sense of wit and joy that comes through even when the deepest emotional moments are explored. Langevin is joined here by pianist Margaret Kampmeier who proves to be a good match.
The album begins with a rather unique work by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) known most for his organ music. The Suite, Op. 34 (1877) is a large-scale work in four movements with the “Scherzo” providing apt virtuosic displays and the “Romance” allowing for some quite beautiful lyric playing. The outer movements help frame these in faster-paced music. Supposedly, Widor was encouraged to orchestrate the work by flutist George Barrere but never got around to it which is unfortunate as no doubt it would have been a more popular orchestral solo staple. Still, it is a delightful piece and makes for an apt start to the exploration of music from the era with its closer leanings to romantic style, but with interesting modern twists.
Lesser known is Jules Mouquet (1867-1946) a more conservative composer from the era (he even wrote a couple of oratorios) who wrote a number of instrumental works. La flute de Pan, Op. 15 (1904) is essentially a programmatic sonata with each movement inspired by an ancient Greek text. The piece moves from a playfulness to interesting birdsong imitations and romance all culminating in a virtuosic final movement.
Perhaps a bit more widely known, Gabriel Faure’s (1879-1941) work blends an equally conservative approach but with an often restrained beauty that adds to its appeal. Two of his more familiar works are part of this program. First is the 1898 Fantaisie, Op. 79 which Faure wrote as a competition piece that was intended to focus on more than just technical skills. There are still plenty of those challenges in the work which would be used for the Paris Conservatoire’s flute competitions on later occasions. For the sight-reading portion, Faure also wrote the Morceau de concerts which is in the more reflective end of his work offering more introspection and opportunity to demonstrate phrasing and lyricism. These works are the bookends for several other solo works that were written for Conservatoire. Georges Enesco’s (1881-1955) Cantabile et presto was one of 4 pieces he would write for that purpose. Written in 1904, the work shows some of the increase in more impressionistic qualities in its opening segment while shifting to virtuosic displays for its concluding presto. Philippe Gaubert (1879-1943) was a noted flautist in his own write but also a fine composer as well. Three of his pieces are included in this program. First is the competition piece Nocturne et allegro scherzando (1906) which provides a fine contrast to Enesco’s work both in terms of approach and overall style. The Fantasie (1912) has a sort of rhapsodic quality with and musical imagery that was not originally a competition work but would be used as such on occasion. Finally, there is the Madrigal of 1908 which equally demonstrates the flirtation with ancient musics and an early mix of modernism and neo-classical qualities.
The album would be quite complete with just these works but Langevin has also included 2 familiar pieces by Debussy (1862-1918) to wrap up this recital. First is an arrangement of the Prelude to the Afternoon of A Faun by Gustave Samazeuilh (1877-1967). This version is from 1925 made by this champion of Debussy’s music (he did a number of piano reductions and transcriptions by hundreds of contemporary larger-scale works). It is rather fascinating to hear how the orchestral colors are transferred to the piano especially. The album concludes with a little encore of sorts in Syrinx (1913) where we already begin to hear the shifts away from this Impressionist style as a sort of last flirtation before more fully embracing modernism.
While this is a recent Bridge release, the recording was made back in 2012. One has to wonder why it took this long to see the light of day but at least it has and those who appreciate flute music will certainly have a lot to dive into in this release of significant works for flute. They demonstrate Langevin’s own virtuoso skill and lyrical abilities on the instrument and that makes this equally attractive. Balance feels fine though the sound seems a bit dry at times which does not give the flute sound a chance to float a bit more in quiet passages, but it does aid the rapid passage work and articulation pop well. An overall excellent album that allows for a good blend of somewhat familiar work with rarer recorded repertoire adding to its attraction.