AUBERT: Dryade. Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand. Offrande Feuille d’Images. Cinema.

AUBERT: Dryade. Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand. Offrande.  Feuille d’Images. Cinema.Leif Segerstam conducting the Rheinland-Pfalz Philharmonic. MARCO POLO 8.223531 [DDD]; 66:28. Produced by Rudolf Hohlweg.

This appears to be the first CD devoted to the music of French composer Louis Aubert (1887-1968), a student of Fauré who sang in the premiere of his teacher’s Requiem and was chosen by Ravel to present the first piano performance of his Valses- Nobles et Sentimentales. Aubert is of interest as a composer who, along with Florent Schmitt, for example, brings a more robust sensibility to the language of post-Impressionism than one usually tends to associate with French music of the early twentieth century. This point is best illustrated here by three relatively brief tone poems — Dryade, Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand, and Offrande — which embrace themes, such as pagan dalliances and the sea as a symbol of the infinite, quite characteristic of the Impressionist taste.

Dryade was originally written in 1924 to accompany a film and deals with the erotic pursuits of pagan characters set in a magical antiquity. Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand is a homage composed in 1948 on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the writer. Chateaubriand was, like Aubert, a native of Brittany; hence, the piece is an opulent seascape. Offrandedates from 1952 and is a memorial to the heroes and victims of World War II. All three of these are richly and atmospherically scored, with a hearty virility that leans at times toward grandiosity. Listening to these works, I am reminded of the music of Arnold Bax, who might be thought of as an English counterpart. However, as with Bax, Aubert’s music needs a stronger melodic profile, without which it lacks a sense of identity, leaving a diffuse, unfocused impression.

Less ambitious but perhaps more effective are the Feuille d’Images, composed in 1932. These are five scenes of childhood, originally conceived as a piano duet   The first piece in particular, called “Confidence”, has a lovely, Ravel-like restrained lyrical poignancy, making it the most memorable music on the disc. The other pieces are attractive, but less striking.

Cinema is a ballet composed in 1953, from which “six symphonic tableaus,” were subsequently drawn. Like Koechlin’s Seven Stars Symphony, Aubert’s ballet was inspired by Hollywood, and each of its movements memorializes such figures as Chaplin, Disney, Valentino, and so forth. Here the music is in a much lighter vein, the impressionistic language infused with pop touches of the period.

The recording was made at two different locations in Ludwigshafen, Germany. The three tone poems were recorded at the Pfalzbau-Hall and they display a boxy, confined quality that is a notable deficit. The pieces recorded at the other location sound fine, though.

This release will be illuminating to those who think that French music of the 20th century is mainly Debussy, Ravel, Les Six, Messiaen, and Boulez. Perhaps Marco Polo will continue their exploration with a look at the music of Henry Barraud, who seems to me to be the most interesting figure of the group represented by Aubert.