July 13, 2020. Bastille Day! Le 14 juillet! Fête nationale! Yes, the national day of France is this week and while we may not be able to hop readily onto Air France and saunter down the Champs-Élysées, we can nevertheless mark the occasion with a very French album of the week, Compositrices.
This new release by flutist Juliette Hurel and pianist Hélène Couvert showcases some of the most stunning chamber music to come out of Paris around the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries.
Five composers of the era are featured — Mélanie Bonis, Cécile Chaminade, Lili Boulanger, Clémence de Grandval and Augusta Holmès. Maybe you don’t know all those names but not to fear — all week long you can bask in the glories of their writing for flute and piano, coming to know them a bit more each day.
And if you think you aren’t a big fan of the flute, I reckon we just may turn you this week. This album is, hands down, the most exquisite collection of chamber works for flute I’ve come across, with performances by Hurel and Couvert that deliver all the color and flourish that befits le fin de siècle.
While a number of the works on this album have rarely been performed and recorded across the 20th century, in their day, attention was paid and they received debut performances from the most esteemed flute-piano duos to be found in Europe, including Paul Taffanel and Camille Saint-Saens, and Philippe Gaubert and Nadia Boulanger.
One of Taffanel’s many performances of Clémence de Grandval’s Suite for flute and piano brought unfettered critical praise — “‘The Prelude, thoroughly delightful from beginning to end, is a true musical pearl”’ (Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, 1878). Listen to the Finale from the same piece as actress Julie Depardieu discusses the fascinating stories of these five composers on this special new album.