While the French composer Florent Schmitt wrote vast quantities of music for solo and duo-pianists, the concertante pieces he composed for piano and orchestra are few.
In fact, there are just two of them.
One is the Symphonie Concertante, a daringly modern work Schmitt composed in 1931 on commission from Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra to commemorate its 50th anniversary season. Florent Schmitt himself was the pianist when the work was performed in Boston.
The only other piano concertante work in Schmitt’s catalog is Ombres, subtitled J’entends dans le lointain … (I hear in the distance …).
It’s a piece that was composed originally for solo piano – the first movement of a three-part piano suite Schmitt created between the years of 1912 and 1917.
Ombres is considered by many musicians to be Schmitt’s most complex, demanding work for solo piano. As an example, the Canadian pianist Leslie De’Ath has written the following:
“This ambitious score shows Schmitt at the height of his impressionistic style, outdoing Debussy and even Ravel in the complexity of the texture, harmony and configuration.”
Hearing this music, one can easily see why Schmitt’s score has been compared to Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. Together, these works represent the apex of French pianistic writing.
The first piece of the Ombres set, J’entends dans le lointain …, draws inspiration from a passage in Comte de Lautréamont’s 1869 violent, nihilistic novel Les Chants de Maldoror.
Hearing the music in any of its three solo piano recordings to date (Werner Bärtschi, Laurent Wagschal and Vincent Larderet), it becomes clear immediately that this is music that is emotionally wrenching.
About 15 years after composing the piano suite, the composer returned to the score, taking the first movement to create a version for piano and orchestra.
That version was premiered in 1930, just before Schmitt began work on the Symphonie Concertante. The premiere performance featured the famous French pianist Jacques Février, along with the conductor/composer Gabriel Pierné directing the Colonne Concerts Orchestra.
Master orchestrator that Schmitt was, it’s always been tantalizing to imagine what he had done with this music. And now we’re about to find out.
In February 2015, pianist Vincent Larderet, one of the three pianists who have recorded the Ombres piano suite, returned to the microphones to record the 1930 piano-and-orchestra version of J’entend dans la lointain …, joined by conductor Daniel Kawka leading the OSE Symphonic Orchestra (Orchestre Symphonique nouvelle génération).
The recording, which also includes two very appropriate disk-mates, the Ravel piano concerti, was made in the resplendent acoustics of the Salle Messiaen in Grenoble, France. It is slated for release in September 2015 on the German ARS Produktion label.
To my mind, Mr. Larderet is the perfect choice for this premiere recording. Not only is he well-familiar with the original solo piano version of the work (his recording of it for NAXOS has won numerous awards), he is also a seasoned artist who has attracted international recognition by virtue of the exceptional intensity of his performances and commercial recordings.
Mr. Larderet has great respect for the music of Florent Schmitt. He characterizes the composer’s writing for piano as possessing a “transcendental virtuosity” — qualities which are particularly evident in Ombres.
I am sure I’m not the only person looking forward to hearing this world premiere recording with great anticipation. It’s sure to be revealed as yet another highly interesting and consequential Schmitt composition.
To hear more about the importance of the Schmitt premiere, this insightful interview with Vincent Larderet, joined by conductor Daniel Kawka, was made at the time of the recording sessions.
Update (11/1/15): The new recording has now been released in the United States and can be ordered through Amazon and other online music websites. In addition, North American listeners can hear a low-res download of J’entends dans le lointain … here on YouTube.