Florent Schmitt – Sonate libre

Florent Schmitt was a near-contemporary of Claude Debussy, though he lived much longer. Debussy died before the end of the First World War, while Schmitt lived on through the Second World War as well as the start of the Cold War (he died in 1958). .

While their contemporaneous music has some similarites, Schmitt’s music has (to my ears) more clarity than Debussy’s soft-focus impressionism. (I’m not slighting Debussy; just trying to describe Schmitt’s music for those not familiar with it.) .

Beata Halska and Claudio Chaiquin present a program of Schmitt violin and piano works that show the composer at his best. .

Written in 1901, Quatre Piéces fairly drips with fin de siècle romantic expression. While the melodies are wistfully sweet, the harmonies look forward, rather than back, with Debussian harmonic motion and chord structure. In some passages (particuarly the second and fourth movements) the thickly stacked chords with their sevenths and ninths sounded more like a classic jazz ballad than a classical composition. (That’s not a complaint.) .

The Habeyssé, Op. 110 is another major work on the album. Written in 1947, its a much more angular work. Shifting meters and some lightly atonal passages make it sound like a modern work, but one that clearly is part of the same continuum as the Quatre Piéces.

The massive Sonate libre (1919) is 30 minutes of imaginative, seemingly free-flowing music. It reminded me of Messiaen’s music (a composer Schmitt admired), but there’s nothing derivative here. This is a work that requires fire and imagination to play, and the team of Halska and Chaiquin have it. They’re perfectly in synch expressively. plus they both have the precision necessary to pull off Schmitt’s cascading runs. .

The quality of the music and the performance is first-rate, in my opinion. My only complaint is the quality of the recording. The sound has a slightly hollow quality to it that I found a little distracting during the softer passages. It’s not enough of a flaw for me to discouage anyone from getting this album — just enough to make it a four and a half-star instead of a five-star review.

Florent Schmitt: Sonata libre
Quatre Piéces, Op. 25; Scherzo vif, Op. 59, No. 2; Chant du soir, Op. 7; Habeyssé, Op. 110; Sonate libre en deux parties enchaînées, ad modem Clementis aquæ…Op. 68
Beata Halska, violin; Claudio Chaiquin, piano
Naxos 8.573169

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