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French Flute Chamber Music

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Audio CD, August 25, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The five composers on this disc share the clarity and refinement, brio and wit, and subtle sensuality that permeate French music in the early years of the twentieth century. Each found in literature, the visual arts and the music of Debussy and Ravel touchstones for their own compositions, while expressing their individual personalities. Refinement and pellucid textures characterize Tournier's Suite; vigor, elegance and passion Schmitt's. Francaix's Quintet, much-loved for its charm and delicacy, matches Roussel's neo-classical Serenade and complments Pierne's virtuosic and translucently scored Variations.


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.

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. -- Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare, Jan-Feb 2010

1. Suite for flute, violin, viola, cello & harp, Op. 34: 1. Soir
2. Suite en Rocaille, for flute, viola, cello & harp, Op. 84: 4. Vif
3. Variations Libre et Finale, for flute, harp & string trio, Op. 51
4. Quintet for flute, violin, viola, cello & harp No. 1: 1. Andante tranquillo
5. Quintet for flute, violin, viola, cello & harp No. 1: 2. Scherzo
6. Quintet for flute, violin, viola, cello & harp No. 1: 3. Andante
7. Quintet for flute, violin, viola, cello & harp No. 1: 4. Rondo

Product Details

  • Performer: Mirage Quintet
  • Conductor: --
  • Composer: Marcel Tournier, Gabriel Pierne, Jean Francaix, Florent Schmitt, Albert Roussel
  • Audio CD (August 25, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B002ED6VE0
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #272,994 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dean Frey on September 3, 2009
Format: Audio CD
The 1970s pop/rock group E.L.O. (Electric Light Orchestra) was famously formed to "pick up where [The Beatles'] 'I Am the Walrus' left off." Similarly, all the works on this CD come out of the sound world created by a single piece: Maurice Ravel's 1905 Introduction et Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet, and String Quartet. This lineup of composers comes from Ravel's generation, except for the youngster Francaix, who is 30-40 years younger than the rest. The pieces were all written in the 1920s or 1930s, all of them for flute, harp, and strings.

Though the music exists in that same sound world, subtle differences in the personalities of the composers emerge. Francaix is playful, Roussel muscular, and Schmitt nostalgic and a bit sentimental. Marcel Tournier's Suite, Op. 34 is a special treat. I knew, and enjoyed, the piece from a Hanssler Classic CD with the Linos Harp Quintet, but the Mirage Quintet give the work a forward momentum and depth that really makes it stand out. You can get a feel for this from the Mirage Quintet's YouTube video of the 3rd Movement (Lied: Assez Lent, Avec Melancolie) filmed during the CD recording in Toronto in 2007. [...]

This recording took place under the watchful eyes and ears of the great team of Bonnie Silver & Norbert Kraft, who between them share producer, engineer, and editor functions. Kraft, by the way, is the very same guitarist who completely nailed the Villa-Lobos guitar music for Naxos in 2000. The sound on the new disc is predictably excellent, though some might argue that Robert Aitken's flute is too forward in the mix. It's hard to see how this music could be played or presented any better.

A longer version of this review is at The Villa-Lobos Magazine - [...]
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By stephen on February 4, 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The whole thing's too Germanic for me : the frenchness of it all is subsumed under emphasis of the gutteral, rather than the gestural.

The notion of 'french' things, whether they be pictorial or architectural and especially musical, should relate directly to the Dance, e.g. the pointillism might be the leading voice of a string, or be explained through an ornament under a parapet, or perhaps be a brush-stroke that goes somewhere, and not nowhere (as so much of Turner goes)

Delicateness is paramount, and such figurines will, or rather, should, invoke a particular sound from the instruments.

Unfortunately, in this record, all sounds go straight the the bowels ; I belch, and cannot tell whether I am reticular or simply un-particular.
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