Oxalys is one of my very favorite chamber ensembles and I was excited to obtain this release, which I somehow had previously missed. It was released in 2019 on the passacaille label, produced by Oxalys themselves. This is the second Oxalys release I've seen on this label, the other being their magnificent Mozart Flute Quartets (+ the Clarinet Quintet), a reissue of an original Fuga Libera release. (See my extensive review of it elsewhere on this blog). Formerly, this group has enjoyed several releases on the wonderful Fuga Libera label, all of which are simply fantastic. That label has significantly reduced output in recent months, therefore I'm thrilled to see Oxalys continue making music for passacaille.
The present disc features music by French composer Jean Cras (1879-1932), with whom I am (was) not familiar. He was a direct contemporary of Debussy and Ravel. And listening to this disc, I was pleased to hear French Impressionistic music very much like the two masters. As a matter of fact, the Piano Quintet reminds me very much of Ravel's Piano Trio. And the Quintet for Harp, Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello reminds very much of Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. Similarities include scoring and orchestration, richly colorful, and a plethora of soaring melodies, lyrical and memorable.
However, we're not talking plagiarism here. Cras has a unique voice. He generally sounds slightly more Romantic than the more famous composers, a little less daring (in both creative expression and scoring), and certainly less prolific. But the similarities are striking.
The opening work, La Flute De Pan, features a soprano soloist and panpipes. I will reserve comment on the piece, as this isn't really my thing. (And fortunately it is a fairly short 13'). But the more substantial works which follow it (described above, lasting 33' and 22' respectively) are magnificent in every conceivable way.
The performances here by Oxalys are simply gorgeous. Words fail me as I try to describe the wonderment to be heard. The same can be said for the recorded sound. It is simply perfect for chamber music with regard to focus, color, presence and ambience.
So then, is Jean Cras a forgotten treasure? Based upon what I hear on this disc, I'd say yes. I absolutely loved this music. And it is so well-written and scored, I'd place his music in the same lofty heights as that of Ravel and Debussy. I will be seeking out more from this composer. Amazon's listings reveal a recording of Orchestral Works (including a Piano Concerto) and several others of his chamber music. They appear to be very expensive (at least in the U.S.), so I am on the hunt for affordable copies. Watch this space for future reviews.