the flower of france

Earlier this month the Sorel Classics label released a wonderful CD called the “Flower of France.” Featuring the piano music of French composer Germaine Tailleferre, as performed by the fantastic Vietnamese-American pianist Quynh Nguyen, this recording features rarely if ever heard piano pieces written by a composer who is often unjustly overlooked.

Germaine Tailleferre was a member of the group of composers known as Les Six; the other members of this illustrious group of composers being Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, George Auric, Darius Milhaud and Louis Durey. She was friends with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Jean Cocteau, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie and ballet impresario Serge Dialgilev, and essentially was a fixture on the vibrant French artistic scene.

Pianist Quynh Nguyen is a graduate of the Julliard School and Mannes College of Music. She received her Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from City University of New York, where her dissertation was on the music of Olivier Messiaen. She is currently on the piano Faculty at Hunter College at City University New York.

This recording features forty miniatures for the piano that span a good portion of Germaine Tailleferre’s career. It starts with a very lovely Debussy and Faure influenced Impromptu written in 1912 and ends with a Stravinsky/Poulenc influenced piece called Singeries (Monkey Business) written in 1975.

“I’ve always loved the music of Debussy, Ravel and Messiaen,” says Nguyen, “when I discovered the music of Tailleferre it was just by chance online… I just fell in love with the inventiveness of the music, and I was so surprised to hear such gorgeous music that I had never discovered before…I just thought it was incredibly beautiful.”

Nguyen describes Tailleferre’s music as being a combination of the impressionism of Ravel and Debussy, mixed with lush romanticism and the influences of Parisian café music that Tailleferre would have been so familiar with. There are also influences of Satie and Stravinsky in here later works.

The CD is named for a wonderful eight movement pain cycle called “The Flower of France.”  Each one of the pieces that make up the cycle describes a native flower in a particular region of France. For example The Jasmine of Provemce, The Rose of Anjou, The Chamomile of Roussillon, The Lavandin of Haute-Provence to name just a few. “The pieces have gorgeous harmonies with interesting harmonic twists to them…with simple melodic lines. Melodically, lyrically, and musically they are simply gorgeous pieces,” states Nguyen.

Most of the music on “The Flower of France” is very obscure and yet is still very delightful music. Nguyen did quite a bit of research and reached out to friends of Tailleferre for advice as to where to find manuscripts. There are even selections from her ballet and film music on the recording. As Nguyen points out, “She was a wonderful pianist herself, and she composed at the piano first and then orchestrated the music later…many of these manuscripts exist first in the piano form…so when I play these pieces they are in that original version. They are wonderful pieces on their own, they are not just transcriptions.”

This is a disc that every lover of French music should have. The music is beguiling, delightful, and beautiful, and when played by Quynh Nguyen completely irresistible. Her playing is tasteful and always keeps in mind the intimacy and character that each of the pieces deserves.

Tailleferre’s music may not be as well-known as Debussy or Ravel, but if you want a different flavour of French music that is full of charm and exquisiteness, than “The Flower of France” will be sure to fit the bill. This is a very welcome and long overdue CD. Hopefully it will spur on a resurgence of Tailleferre’s music on concert programs.

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