One of the most charming late works of Florent Schmitt is his quartet for flute, violin, cello and piano he titled Pour presque tous les temps, Opus 134 (“Quartet for Almost All the Time”).
Composed in 1956 for the Quatuor Instrumental de Paris, this four-movement work lasts barely 12 minutes, but is one of the most engaging pieces of music I’ve ever heard for this combination of instruments — not withstanding other laudable pieces written in the same vein by composers such as Jacques Ibert and Francis Poulenc.
In its freshness and vitality, it hardly seems the work of a man who was in his mid-80s at the time of its composition. It captivated me the very first time I heard it, and it never sounds “routine” — even after hearing it multiple times.
Unfortunately, Pour presque tous les temps has not been easily accessible to hear. It has been recorded only three times to my knowledge, and only one of the recordings appears to be in print at the moment.
Moreover, it’s a piece that is encountered in the concert hall all too rarely.
Not only that, the ensemble that performed the music was one of the finalists in a competition that saw more than 500 secondary school ensembles participating from all over the country.
The preliminary round was held in June, with just 14 groups selected to take part in a two-day National Finals event which was held in Christchurch in early August.
Happily, an ensemble from Rangitoto College in Auckland calling itself “Schmitten” was one of the six National Finalists in the 2014 competition, performing Florent Schmitt’s Pour presque tous les temps. The ensemble’s personnel includes flautist Jessica ‘Jisu’ Yun, violinist Seoyoung Lee, cellist Hyein Kim and pianist Rebecca Wan.
Even better, Schmitten’s award-winning performance of Pour presque tous les temps has now been uploaded on YouTube.
And a fine performance it is: full of wonderful joie de vivre, along with being technically very tight and proficient.
I think it is particularly noteworthy that this ensemble chose to perform an unfamiliar work that has had very little exposure on recordings — thereby making it more of a challenge for these young players to come to know and to master the music. (And having looked at the score, I find it similar to many other Schmitt manuscripts in posing its share of technical challenges for the performers.)
You can listen to the Schmitten ensemble’s performance of Pour presque tous les temps here. In addition to being a very commendable and highly polished effort in its own right, it happens to be the only public performance of this music available on YouTube or any other audio or video sharing platform at this time.
So for those who are curious to hear this music but don’t wish to undertake the task of ordering the Ensemble Martinu/Cube Bohemia recording from Europe or attempting to track down the elusive Marcal recording, the Schmitten performance is the easiest way to encounter the music — and in a live video presentation, too.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Chamber Music New Zealand for making this and the other 2014 award-winning performances available for viewing. You can visit Chamber Music New Zealand’s YouTube channel and sample the other performances from the National Finals round, which included the following pieces of music in addition to the Schmitt:
- Brahms: Trio in E-Flat Major for Horn, Violin & Piano
- Chambers: Crossroads Songs
- Ravel: Piano Trio (first and second movements)
- Saint-Saëns: Piano Trio #2 in E Minor (first movement)
- Schubert: Piano Trio #1 in B-Flat Major (first movement)
Seeing and hearing these fine young musicians perform, it’s clear that what many arts observers contend about the Far East and Oceania is absolutely true: Classical music has a bright future there.
Update (9/17/20): This very performance of Florent Schmitt’s Pour presque tous les temps has been selected for presenting the music in conjunction with the score. Music-lovers can now “see as well as hear” every one of Schmitt’s musical tricks that goes into creating such a fresh, invigorating score.
The upload is now available for viewing here, courtesy of George ‘Nick’ Gianopoulos’s estimable music channel on YouTube.