One of the most exciting recent recording projects featuring the music of Florent Schmitt is the complete duo-piano music being released in 2012-13 by Naxos Grand Piano. The four-CD traversal is performed by the Invencia Piano Duo: Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn.
The first of the four volumes in the series was released in late 2012 to positive critical acclaim. The second volume is due for U.S. release in March 2013, with the final two CDs planned for release later in the year.
Beyond its very substantial musical attractions, the project merits particular attention because of the extensive number of world premiere recordings it contains.
Recently, I asked Oksana Lutsyshyn and Andrey Kasparov to share some of their thoughts about Florent Schmitt’s duo-piano music and its importance in the piano repertoire.
PLN: When did you first become aware of the piano music of Florent Schmitt? What attracted you to his compositions?
IPD: It was in the mid 1990s when we started working on a CD called “Hommages musicaux” that contained two cycles: Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy and Hommage à Gabriel Fauré. Florent Schmitt had contributed a piano piece to each of these cycles.
We were captivated by the richness of Schmitt’s multi-layered harmonies and textures, as well as the vitality of the rhythmic structures in the music. We realized we had made an interesting discovery.
PLN: What aspects of Schmitt’s piano music to you find particularly noteworthy?
IPD: Independence. One can easily tell that Schmitt composed as he wanted to at a particular time — and for purely artistic motivations– without needing to please any political group or alliance.
PLN: Alfred Cortot has described Florent Schmitt’s piano music as sounding like “many hands … full of notes.” Do you agree?
IPD: Absolutely. Cortot hit the nail on the head.
PLN: In your recording series for Grand Piano, you are including a number of world premieres. Of these, which ones do you consider to be particularly impressive and worthy of rediscovery?
IPD: Really all of them are impressive — and for different reasons. For instance, Sur cinq notes and the eight Courtes pièces are fantastic as pedagogical repertoire.
Musiques foraines dwarfs Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants in its virtuosity and audacity.
Sept pièces, on the other hand, radiates an incredible coloristic palette, while Trois pièces récréatives would be absolutely wonderful as an encore, and so on. All of these works are worthy of attention.
PLN: Volume 1 of your series contains an unpublished work, the “Rhapsodie parisienne,” which I loved getting to know. What can you tell us about this piece and Schmitt’s intentions for it when he composed it in 1900?
IPD: This is one of two unpublished duets by Schmitt, and we can see pencil notations in the score that clearly indicate the composer intended to orchestrate it. The exuberant energy and brilliance of this composition evoke the manner of Emmanuel Chabrier’s orchestral writing.
Equally striking are the intricate polymeters and intense dynamic development that foreshadow Maurice Ravel’s La Valse by nearly two decades. We agree that it’s a wonderful piece of music.
PLN: In addition to recording the complete duo-piano repertoire, you have performed some of these works in recital over the past several years. What’s been the audience reaction and receptivity to the music?
IPD: It’s been very positive but varies depending on the piece, the overall program, the acoustic environment, the quality of the pianos and the contingent of listeners in the audience.
For instance, we played Reflets d’Allemagne for the German Society of Philadelphia where the work was warmly received and well appreciated. A warm reception is always given to Musiques foraines also, although at times the sheer virtuosity of this work (as well as some other Schmitt works) may catch an unprepared listener off-guard.
And speaking of virtuosity, we think this is a feature of Schmitt’s piano music that may have scared performers away. In fact, we don’t even know if some of the piano duet works were ever given an “official” premiere in Europe before we gave them exposure here in the United States!
PLN: Now that more than 50 years have passed since his death, what do you consider to be Schmitt’s legacy to the world of music — and specifically to the piano repertoire?
IPD: Overall, it has to be its innovation. It’s amazing how many ideas Schmitt came up with that were later passed off by more recognized names as their own innovations – Stravinsky and Ravel, among others.
To the world of piano music, Schmitt’s legacy is the expansion of the textural and sonoristic possibilities of the instrument – both as solo and duet music – well beyond what had been seen and heard before.
For those who wish to explore the wide-ranging, always-interesting duo-piano works by Schmitt, the Grand Piano series featuring the Invencia Piano Duet is a very good place to start.
Volume 1, containing world premiere performances of the Sept pieces, Op. 15 and Rhapsodie parisienne along with the brilliant, glittering Trois Rapsodies, Op. 53, is already available.
Volume 2, to be released in the USA in March 2013, contains two additional world premiere recordings – Sur cinq notes, Op. 34 and the Courtes pièces, Op. 41, along with the Reflets d’Allemagne, Op. 28, one of the composer’s most oft-recorded duo-piano works.
You can also sample the Invencia Piano Duo in recital in this YouTube clip.
For anyone who loves piano music of the late-Romantic or early-Modern era, these compositions and performances are sure to be a welcome discovery.