FLORENT SCHMITT: Le Petit Elfe Ferme-l’Oeil (The Dream God), Op. 73; Introit, Recit et Conge for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 113 – Henri Demarquette, cello/ Aline Martin, mezzo-sop./ Orchestre National de Lorraine/ Jacques Mercier – Timpani 1C1212, 51:10 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
It was probably Schmitt’s close friendship with Maurice Ravel that inspired him to begin his suite for piano four-hands titled Hjalmar’s Dreams. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Dream God, this tale brings the Nordic version of Sandman as an Elf, invading children’s dreams and tantalizing them with wonderful stories. In this fairy tale, a boy (Hialmar) is visited by the Elf who helps the boy to sleep while conjuring up a series of seven “dream sequences” – one for each night of the week. Ravel at that time was working on Mother Goose, and Schmitt couldn’t resist, creating this music named colorfully “The Festival of the Mice”, “The Dyspeptic Stork”, “The Sandman’s Horse”, “The Marriage of the Doll”, “The Round of the Obtuse Letters”, “The Promenade across the Picture”, and “The Chinese Umbrella”.
The work was orchestrated about 10 years later in 1923, but unlike Ravel, whose enclosed impressionism always followed very distinct and controlled orchestral coloring, Schmitt let the lions out of the cage. The piece is inundated with explosions of orchestral fireworks that almost defy the listener to keep up with them. This was not unusual for the Art Nouveau period, which saw blasts aplenty in the combination of French harmonic richness and Russian exoticisms; audiences came to expect this, and Schmitt did not let them down. He might not have written another work so replete with such visual depth and lush, ear-opening color. It’s amazing that this appears to be its premiere recording.
The Cello “Suite”—a concerto by any other name—was written for virtuoso Andre Navarra, and Schmitt intentionally runs the movements together in order to deny the artist any breathing space at all, something he did not think Navarra needed. This 1948 work still maintains the composer as a fervent romantic, and once again in this premiere recording we get to hear what cellists everywhere who don’t know this work are missing—not to mention audiences in general. Timpani has given these pieces astoundingly vivid and broad, almost SACD sound in a conventional setup. This is music that simply must be heard, and it’s hard to imagine a better recording coming along anytime soon.