Though his name is likely unfamiliar to most, French composer Déodat
de Sévérac's piano music has received a fair amount of discographic
attention. Considering only the monographs: Lebanese-French pianist
Billy Eidi recorded a selection similar to this new one for Timpani
(1C1080), ditto Albert Attenelle the same year for the Catalan label
Columna Música (1CM0040). Both were slightly preceded by Izumi Tateno
on Warner's Apex label (2564 60625-2, review).
More recently another French label, Accord, reissued their 1980s recording
of some of Sévérac's finest by Jean-Joël Barbier (ACC 4658142),
whilst Isabelle Le Goux, on a short album from small French label
L'Algarade with occasionally idiosyncratic engineering, has
the only recording of Sévérac's unpublished Six Petites
Pièces (no catalogue number). The first pianist to record (almost)
all of Sévérac's piano works was French-music specialist Aldo
Ciccolini for EMI, those original LPs these days available in a triple-CD
boxed set (7243 5 72372 2 2).
Ciccolini's reputation will make him first consideration for
most would-be Sévérac collectors, but hard to beat in terms of completeness,
price and expressive excellence is Jordi Masó's trilogy for
2), the final volume of which this presumably stand-alone selection
by François-Michel Rignol coincides with. Masó's cycle is genial
- see review
of volume 3 - but Rignol's recital has plenty to commend it
too. With two of Sévérac's finest works, Cerdaña and
Baigneuses au Soleil, on offer, as well as a three-minute
song transcription made by Rignol and a generous running time, no
one looking for a starting-point for the exploration of a composer
once described by Debussy as "mak[ing] music that smells good
and which you wholeheartedly inhale", is likely to be disappointed.
Rignol, on his debut for Solstice, communicates the sunlit landscapes
and blue skies of Sévérac's endlessly evocative music with
subtlety, self-assurance and the insight of someone who has enjoyed
the composer's beloved climes. He underlines the parallels
with Debussy, Fauré, Satie and Albéniz, whilst making clear that Sévérac
was every bit as original as they. Arguably, Rignol's recital
is slightly diminished by the fact that he has unnecessarily 'edited'
Sévérac's En Vacances, offering four out of the eight
pieces from the composer's first book, and none from the second.
In fact, Rignol would almost certainly have been able to fit all eight
pieces of volume one, and definitely all three of volume two, onto
The piano has been recorded close up, presumably to compensate for
the natural resonances of the magnificent church setting. At times
the recording comes close to distortion in the loudest passages, whilst
elsewhere a certain amount of piano action intrudes, at its worst
(in En Vacances) sounding like percussion accompaniment.
In general, though, these are minor considerations.
Though Sévérac's life was cut quite short, there is nevertheless
more to him than piano music, a fact amply demonstrated by Timpani's
recent recording of his two-act opera Le Coeur du Moulin
With half a dozen stage works to his name, there could be more to
come in that department, but Sévérac also wrote choral, chamber and
orchestral works as well as a number of songs.
The accompanying booklet, in French and English, is slightly disappointing,
with nothing on the works themselves, and no real information on the
composer. It does however have a nice photo of the Ermitage and a
helium-fuelled translation of Rignol's biography into English.
There is an old photo of Sévérac looking thoroughly French with a
debonair cigarette in hand, whilst Rignol looks rather more astonished
at the presence of a camera.
Incidentally, Solstice have spelt Sévérac's name without a
second acute: 'Séverac'. Naxos did the same for volume
one, but used the spelling 'Sévérac' in the latter two.
French sources do indeed generally prefer the single 'é'
version, but Pierre Guillot's new biography of the composer
(L'Harmattan, Paris, 2010) explains why the correct form must
be 'Sévérac', even though the composer himself was known
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
also review by Jonathan Woolf