Déodat de SÉVÉRAC (1872-1921)
Oeuvres pour Piano:-
Cerdaña - Cinq Etudes Pittoresques (1908-11) [32:53]
En Vacances I (Au Château et dans le Parc) (1911) (selection) [12:17]
Baigneuses au Soleil (Souvenir de Banyuls-sur-Mer) (1908) [7:12]
Sous les Lauriers Roses (Soir de Carnaval sur la Côte Catalane) (1919) [15:09]
Ma Poupée Chérie (1914) (transcr. Rignol) [3:09]
François-Michel Rignol (piano)
rec. Chapelle de l'Ermitage, Font-Romeu, France, June 2008. DDD
SOLSTICE SOCD 280 [70:48]

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from small French label L'Algarade with occasionally idiosyncratic engineering, has the only recording of Sévérac's unpublished Six Petites Pièces (no catalogue number).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 Naxos (vol. 1; vol. 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 this disc.
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 (1C1176, review). 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 to vacillate.
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk

See also review by Jonathan Woolf
Rignol communicates Sévérac's sunlit landscapes and blue skies with subtlety, self-assurance and insight.


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