Friday, 6 March 2015

Really fine chamber works by French composer, Laurent Lefrançois receive excellent performances on as new release from Evidence Classics

Laurent Lefrançois (b. 1974) was born in Caen, France. A graduate of orchestration and composition with Michel Merlet at the École Normale de Musique de Paris, he studied harmony and counterpoint with Stéphane Delplace and composition and orchestration with Guillaume Connesson.

He has received commissions from the Festival Présences of Radio France 2004, L’association ProQuartet CEMC in 2006, the Modigliani Quartet and Lise Berthaud, Alla Breve: Radio France Musique, the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier in 2007, the Music Festival in Empéri in Salon-de-Provence in 2009, the orchestra of Le conservatoire de Douai in 2014 and new music released in 2015 for the clarinetist Paul Meyer and the orchestra of Rouen. Laurent Lefrançois won the Boulogne Public International Young Composers Competition Award in 2006.

A new release from Evidence Classics brings together a number of chamber works written by Laurent Lefrançois between 2003 and 2013 featuring Paul Meyer (clarinet), Magali Mosnier (flute), François Meyer (oboe), Gilbert Audin (bassoon), Ria Ideta (marimba), Cyril Guillotin and Nima Sarkechik (pianos) and Quatuor Parisii.


Laurent Lefrançois wrote his Sextuor Mixte for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano (2003) following a commission from the Présences Festival. It shoots off full of energy and joy with something of the feel of Poulenc in his chamber music. However elements such as occasional moments of minimalism make this a thoroughly 21st Century work. Each instrument helps weave the phrases and motifs bringing some fine textures. A slower section arrives with some fine string passages before the music takes off momentarily before slowing again with gentle pizzicato strings and a fine clarinet melody. There are more fine textures from these instrumentalists before moving quickly forward through some shimmering textures to the subtle coda.

This is a most enjoyable piece that receives an excellent performance.

Padouk Phantasticus (2009) was written for the interesting combination of marimba and clarinet and commissioned by the Musique à l’Emperi Festival. The title refers to both the ‘stylus phantasticus’ of the Baroque era and the wood that the marimba is made from. The marimba provides the opening notes before the clarinet quickly joins, in an attractive melody, rhythmic and flowing. These two instruments are shown to be natural bed fellows; the mellow clarinet sound complementing the texture and tone of the marimba perfectly, especially in such fine writing as this.  The varying rhythmic passages are expertly handled with some fine passages as the two instrumentalists occasionally vie against each other. Soon a quieter, slower section arrives with an exquisite part for the marimba and little contributions from the clarinet, playfully as though a cat and mouse game. The music takes off again before a flourish leads to the end.

This is a lovely work played with extraordinary musicianship.

In 2013 Lefrançois took Frescobaldi’s organ work Toccata sesta d'après and arranged it for string quartet. This is an arrangement that will take me looking for the original such are its attractions. This fine arrangement uses so many of the sonorities of the quartet to bring an intoxicatingly vivid realisation, very finely played and sensitive to the dynamics.

Approaching a City wind trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon (2006, rev. 2012) was written for wind trio consisting of oboe, B flat clarinet (clarinet in A in the second movement) and bassoon and won the audience prize at the Boulogne Young Composers Competition in 2006. In three movements, the title refers to a painting by Edward Hopper (1882–1967) that depicts a city landscape with a deserted railway track and tunnel from which one expects a train to suddenly appear.

Movement I has a rhythmic pulse as it moves quickly forward, these three instrumentalists providing a very fine texture, each bringing his own fine timbre and colours with rhythms that are rather syncopated in nature. The music slows to a quieter passage before leading to the end. The clarinet opens Movement II with a gently flowing melody to which the others join. There are lovely little decorations, skilfully written, full of finely conceived ideas and with such a natural development. These players weave some lovely fugal lines, bringing a lovely flow. Movement III opens with an insistent theme for all the players which is then varied, different textures added, with varying rhythms, the theme heard through the prism of an ever changing variety of ideas.

These three players provide a first rate performance.

Erinnerung for string sextet (2007) is performed here in its version for string quartet. Commissioned by the ProQuartet – European Centre for Chamber Music, the composer was asked to write a piece with Viennese symphonies as a reference point; hence there is a glimpse of the well-known theme from Mozart’s Symphony No.40 and another less obvious theme.

There is an astringent edge to the opening phrases but soon a gentler theme is heard as the music leads forward. There are some little forward surges as the music builds as well as the allusions to Mozart. Indeed the work seems to hide a myriad of ideas within its textures. When the music picks up in tempo and rhythm there are some terrific passages. Later it slows with some lovely whimsical moments before a hushed coda.

This is a terrific work, brilliantly played by Quatuor Parisii.

Finally we come to the work that gives this disc its title, Le Nouveau Balnéaire (2007) (The New Sea Resort). Laurent Lefrançois was inspired by a train timetable slogan ‘A sea town 2 hours from Paris’ and reflects the Normandy of the Impressionists together with aspects of the city’s industrial past and cargo ships. Originally for orchestra, it is performed here in the composer’s version for piano four hands.

A little theme opens but consistently one piano line tries to break it up. Soon the lower line begins to conform and blend in with the fine flowing theme, very French, bringing to mind the influence of Debussy. The music works through some lovely passages with varying rhythms and a fine melodic flow, with Lefrançois’ distinctive rhythms and subtle repetitions. The music builds before quietening to a reflective beautifully played section with a little underlying pulse over which jewel like phrases are heard. Later there is a passage where phrases are picked out slowly over the underlying theme before leading to a gentle hushed coda.

This is another really fine work that receives a very fine performance from pianists Cyril Guillotin and Nima Sarkechik.

I am very glad to have been introduced to this fine composer. Here, there are works that I will return to frequently. The recording is excellent and there are informative booklet notes. 

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