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