Philippe Gaubert was a mustachioed mini-Bernstein on the Paris musical scene between the wars, a flutist-composer-conductor some of whose recordings were prominent for a while in the American Columbia catalog. Lately a CD of his Chants de la Mer has brought us some minor but lovely music, airy, rocking, sensuous, suggesting a composer halfway between the Ibert of Escales and Delius. It’s vivid all right, you can almost smell the suntan lotion. Reviews of Gaubert’s conducting in David Ewen’s Living Musicians speak of “sobriety, discretion, elegant nimbleness” — all very French, this, and he was nowhere near as boring as these nouns and adjective might indicate — and, I like this, his ability to make music in a great variety of styles “live palpitatingly.” That’s it. Listen to Gaubert’s version of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique and the lost soul introduction gives way to an impish and flickering allegro non troppo. Snowballs could be flying in old Moscow.

The cascading midsection of the first movement’s famous second subject is elegant indeed, the work of a master boulevardier on the podium. This is music that stays at the Ritz or San Régis. Then a high tension development section all a-rumbling, furioso but controlled: Gaubert is very adept at building phrases, staging a climax. The opening of the scurrying third movement is cousin to Berlioz’ Queen Mab, keen and sparkly. Then the finale begins like a great speech by Sarah Bernhardt . . . And Gaubert’s collaboration with that marvelously witty pianist Marguerite Long in Mozart’s A major piano concerto, the K488? It’s a joy, sweet, delicate, unrushed, in no way effete but supremely ethereal. Excellent marks as well for the lovely HUM of bass in the opening of the second suite from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe.

Interesting to speculate if Gaubert had survived into the Long Playing age. His discography would surely have given some competition to Ernest Ansermet and Albert Wolff.