Composer Joseph Guy Ropartz enjoyed a lifespan that cut across an enormous territory of French music; when he was born, Jacques Offenbach had just premiered La belle Hélène and the year he died, Henri Dutilleux rolled out his second symphony. Ropartz also achieved an astounding rite of passage in his own work, starting out deep inside the Franck school, but also embracing impressionist language and ultimately emerging as the chief tone poet of his native region, Brittany; late in life Ropartz flirted with neo-classicism. Before the advent of CDs, recordings of Ropartz's music were so seldom made that they were almost unknown; however, just 25 years into the digital era practically all of his 200 works have been recorded. One area of his work that has certainly not been over-recorded, however, is his piano music, and Canadian pianist Stéphane Lemelin is among the first to try for ATMA Classique's album of Ropartz's piano music.
Two-thirds of the disc come from the 1910s, a period where Ropartz's piano music is imbued in impressionist style, and this part of the disc includes his three Nocturnes, a Scherzo (1916), and the suite Musiques au jardin (1916-1917). These are the most approachable pieces on the disc, with the First Nocturne (1911) being a particularly powerful and original work that stands right on the cusp between Franckian chromaticism and Debussy's parallelism. The suite entitled Jeunes Filles (1929) is in the dryer, wittier, more cosmopolitan idiom of Les Six, except that there is sense of distance in these pieces -- dedicated as portraits of younger friends -- not present in the others, and sometimes Ropartz just seems to be spinning his wheels. Stéphane Lemelin's performance is creditable but not definitive; the reading of the Musiques au jardin is a little ungainly and less than fluid and in the Nocturnes one wants a bit more warmth, patience, and generousness in phrasing; also, sometimes the pedaling is a bit too heavy. So, it's not perfect, but for those who are interested in impressionists other than Ravel and Debussy, this selection should prove quite interesting.