Déodat de SÉVÉRAC (1872-1921)
Piano Music - vol. 3
Le chant de la terre (1900) [22.51]: Piano Sonata in B flat minor (1898) [39.14]: Stances à Madame de Pompadour (1909) [6.27]: Pippermint-Get (1907) [4.18]
Jordi Máso (piano)
rec. Jaffre Auditorium, Spain, 8-9 October 2011
NAXOS 8.572429 [70:50]

Déodat de Sévérac was not the luckiest of composers, and not just because of his relatively early death. One of the most interesting of the school of French composers to come out of the Franck-influenced circle which surrounded Vincent d’Indy, he had decidedly more affinities with his contemporary French impressionists. The fact that most of the music by which he is now remembered was written for solo piano brings him into direct contrast with the pioneering works of Ravel and Debussy, whose towering masterpieces have overshadowed his own very real achievements in this field. There has been some revival of interest in his other work in more recent years - his opera Le coeur du moulin has been recently recorded, and revealed a composer of more than merely academic interest - and this is the third of a series of discs which Naxos have devoted to his piano music.
The largest-scale work on this disc is also the earliest, the Piano Sonata which Sévérac wrote at the urging of d’Indy to be based on the principles of Beethoven - although he also employed the cyclic repetition of themes which derived from Franck. Indeed d’Indy rather ungraciously thought that he overused the cyclic method of construction, and the sonata remained unpublished until 1990. It is essentially a student work, although there are some hints of Sévérac’s future development in his employment of pentatonic elements and the whole-tone scale both of which formed a part of Debussy’s harmonic armoury. This appears to be the only currently available recording of the score; it was not included in Aldo Ciccolini’s pioneering three-disc collection on EMI. It must be said however that this is not a discovery of a forgotten masterpiece. The Franckian overtones lie heavy on the music, and the energetic piano writing itself is not free of a sense of routine. The slow Elégie begins with a certain wistful charm, but the music is then developed less convincingly.
The Chant de la terre, composed a mere two years later, shows the composer finding his own voice. It was based on music composed for a now lost symphonic poem; the modal principal melody has Spanish overtones which reflect the influence of Sévérac’s piano teacher Albéniz, but the style is distinctly the composer’s own. The haunting melody of Les semailles has an accompaniment of pastoral beauty, although the very immediate sound of the recording here is not quite what one imagines Sévérac intended by his indication “very gentle and distant.” The piece was not only included in Ciccolini’s collection but has figured on several other subsequent recordings, of which that by Izumi Tateno - originally issued on Finlandia - is considerably more atmospherically recorded than Masó’s otherwise fine reading.
The other two works on this disc are later pieces, and it must be conceded that they are trifles rather than substantial compositions. The Stances à Madame de Pompadour is, as its title would suggest, a pastiche of eighteenth century style; the sparkling and positively flashy ‘valse brillante de concert’ Pippermint-Get was named after a mint liqueur.
As I have suggested, the recorded sound is very clear and has plenty of presence, which serves Jordi Masó’s idiomatic playing well; but Tateno’s most distant sound provides a sense of gentle impressionism which may accord better with the composer’s gentle musings. On the other hand, if you are interested in Sévérac’s early development, this is the only available recording of the Piano Sonata; and Tateno’s recording of the Stances seems to have gone missing from the current reissue of his recital on Warner Apex. However all admirers of French twentieth century piano music who are not familiar with Sévérac’s beautiful and gentle muse should investigate it urgently. And we are hardly spoilt for choice in this repertoire, in which Masó’s discs are the most comprehensive recordings we have yet received.
Sévérac’s output was not large, and presumably this will be the last in Naxos’s series since most of the composer’s major piano works were included in the first two discs (see reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2). That is a shame. Debussy said that Sévérac’s music had a “sweet scent.” He was entirely right.
Paul Corfield Godfrey 

Debussy said that Sévérac’s music had a “sweet scent.” He was entirely right.

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