Get ready for Florent Schmitt’s piano duet and duo repertoire … all four CDs’ worth!

Invencia Piano Duo (Kasparov + Lutsyshyn

The Invencia Piano Duo (Kasparov & Lutsyshyn)

Florent Schmitt’s duo-piano music represents a trove of highly interesting material. And up to now, who could have known how much of it there is?

Quite a lot, it turns out.

In fact, the NAXOS organization plans to release four CDs traversing the entire two-piano output of the composer on its Grand Piano label, beginning in October 2012.

Volume 1 will contain one of Schmitt’s best-known two-piano compositions: the Trois Rapsodies, Opus 53 (Francaise, Polonaise, Viennoise). Completed in 1904, this brilliant work was first recorded in 1956 by the famous duo-piano team of Robert & Gaby Casadesus and released on Columbia Masterworks (Sony). That fine interpretation would remain the only recording for nearly four decades.

Schmitt Trois rapsodies Casadesus Columbia

First commercial recording: Robert & Gaby Casadesus (Columbia Records, 1956)

But in recent years, we’ve been treated to at least three more recordings by my count:  Sermet/Paik, Kanazawa/Admony, and De’Ath/Alexeyev. Several may rival the Casadesus interpretation, but none quite match the muscular vigor we hear alongside the icy brilliance in the Casadesus reading.

And now we’ll have a fifth new reading, performed by the Invencia Piano Duo, made up of Andrei Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn. From its home base in Tidewater Virginia, this team has been busily preparing and performing Schmitt’s piano music in recent years, leading up to the Grand Piano recordings being released starting next month.

The balance of the repertoire on Volume 1 is equally interesting. There is a first-ever recording of Schmitt’s Seven Pieces, Opus 15, composed in 1899. According to Mr. Kasparov, this early work is a bit less daring harmonically and more reminiscent of earlier composer styles such as Schumann and Borodin. It should prove to be an intriguing discovery.

An unpublished work rounds out the program: the Rapsodie Parisienne. In this case, we actually have a sneak preview of how impressive this composition sounds, courtesy of a YouTube video of the Invencia Piano Duo playing this work live in recital in 2011.

Even though the Rapsodie Parisienne dates from 1900, to me it sounds just as advanced as the Trois Rapsodies that came along a short time later – and every bit as exciting, too.

Take a listen; it’ll surely whet your appetite for acquiring the new CD when it becomes available next month.

According to Mr. Kasparov, the rest of Schmitt’s duo-piano compositions will appear on three subsequent NAXOS Grand Piano recordings to be released over the coming year. No doubt, there will be some highly interesting material contained on those CDs – perhaps even some more “first discoveries” as in Volume 1.

A big “thank you” is extended to the Invencia Duo Piano and to the NAXOS organization for making the entire two-piano repertoire of Florent Schmitt available for the very first time. And a special word of appreciation goes out to Mme. Annie Schmitt, the composer’s granddaughter, for granting permission to record the Rapsodie Parisienne.

We’ll definitely be listening — and enjoying.

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