SCHMITT: Complete Original Works for Piano Duet, Vol. 3 =  Marche du 163 R.I., Op. 48, No. 2; Feuillets de voyage, Op. 26, Books I – II; Musiques foraines, Op. 22 – The Ivencia Duo – Grand Piano GP623, 59:51 [Distr. by Naxos] (4/2/13) ****:

More piano-duo music by Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) via The Ivencia Duo (rec. January-May 2012) that demonstrates his rich keyboard palette and often poly-metric syntax allied to a richly “vertical” style, what Schmitt termed his “seductive harmony.” All the selections on this disc are for piano duet.

The duo opens with Schmitt’s 1916 March du 163 R.I., a militant tribute to an infantry regiment dear to Schmitt’s heart; but like other “wartime” compositions like Debussy’s En blanc et noir, the nervously cascading chords contain their own anxiety and bitter legacy of colors. In sonata form, the development section builds to an unmistakable “battle” climax, but the sentiment remains darkly ominous. That this piece would serve brilliantly for soundtrack aspects of the Abel Gance anti-war epic  J’Accuse!” seems inevitable. The Invencia Duo here inscribes the work’s world premier recording, as are all of these.

Travel Pages (Feuillets de voyage) comprise sets in five movements, 1903-1913), Schmitt’s peregrinations in the form of national characteristic dances in two books: Serenade, Visite, Compliments, Douceur du soir, and Danse britannique; Berceuse, Mazurka, Marche burlesque, Retour a l’endroit familier, and Valse. The Serenade casts a breezy boulevardier sentiment, close to what we know of Poulenc. With Visite, we enter a tonal world – that luxuriates in parlando dialogue – akin to that of Schumann, the fond romantic reminiscence. The third piece, Compliments, more than suggests a Brahms waltz from his Op. 39. These three relatively quick pieces yield to a pair of slow movements: Douceur du soir (Balmy Evening), which plays like a dreamy nocturne, Debussy-style, basking in romantic memories; and a briskly energetic British Dance, percussive and indulging in quick shifts in register.

Book II opens with a slow Lullaby, set in suspensions and some counterpoint. It could pass as a moody, elegiac piece by Faure. Mazurka, a brief and syncopated gem, elicits a warm intimacy from The Invencia Duo, Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn. Marche burlesque reveals the ironic side of Schmitt, with a passing, acerbic harmony or two derived from Saint-Saens, cross-fertilized by Alkan and Satie. The last two selections form a natural conclusion to the journey: the Schumann influence is clear in Retour a l’endroit familier, a modal but brightly lit homecoming, mostly set in echo-effects that ring like chimes. The Valse which ends the work exerts more aggression, a la Ravel or Chabrier, then subsiding into a real sense of comfortable salon figures, elastic and sensuous, as the domestic rewards after long voyages are wont to be.

Schmitt’s set of six pieces, Musiques foraines (Carnival Music, 1895-1902) receives its world premier in this recording (January-May 2012). Schmitt has his humorous side, recognizable from the outset. Parade repeats a series of octaves in festive colors, asking for crisp szorfati and bouncy staccati. Its middle section exploits cascades that soon join in the cantering rhythm that will culminate in a hearty gallop. Boniment de clowns clearly alludes to the circus, a melancholy plaint with passing dissonances. The model here seems to be the Jeux d’enfants of Georges Bizet. La belle Fathma presents an exotic miniature: the nocturne depicts the North African colors of a belly dancer. Paul Bowles does not appear to be afar. Les elephants savants returns to the circus, the wise beasts cavorting majestically and perhaps dangerously in a series of riffs that often partake of pentatonic scales. We stop to have our palms read by La pythonisse, the old-world designation for the Delphic Oracle. Rather subtle metrics and unconventional harmonic progressions inform this gentle and stately song, with its wisps of Chopin and Faure, often relishing its trills in a manner recalling some of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words or the sad birds Ravel paints. Chevaux de bois (The Wooden Horse) could invoke Homer’s image, but its rather whimsical mood suggests rather Schumann’s rocking-horse gallant and playful aspects of Debussy and Faure in their respective celebrations of childhood.  A lovely syncopated tune arises from the off-beat convergence of harmonies from the two keyboards, an enchanting synchronicity of musical energies and fleet invention – with quick allusions to Gounod’s Faust Waltz –  lovingly rendered by Ivencia and captured by engineer L. Steven Latham at the Wilson G. Chandler Recital Hall, Old Dominion University, Norfolk Virginia.

—Gary Lemco