Of this trio of works for viola and piano - two
sonatas and a suite - it appears that only the Koechlin has previously
been recorded. It strikes me that the sonata by Pierre de Bréville
is, in particular, worthy of an accolade in this first recorded performance
given its refinement and sensibility; given, too, the fine performance
and tonal shading and ensemble virtues that document its course. Written
in 1944, toward the end of the composer’s long life, it shows
some allegiances to Franckian principles - he had studied with Franck
in the 1880s - and some hint too of an earlier enthusiasm for Wagner
in its clear chromaticism. But neither influence is overpowering. In
fact it’s a tribute to the composer’s skill at the age of
83 that he maintains so convincing a sense of fluidity in this work,
adding a languid central movement with attractive modality. The finale
oscillates between lyrical and self-assertive and whilst thematically
things could more distinctive, there is some virtue in ending the work
as abruptly and argumentatively as he does. It is an unexpected twist.
The work was dedicated to France’s greatest violist, Maurice Vieux.
Koechlin’s Sonata was begun in the years before the First World
War but finished, as was de Bréville’s, in wartime. Subtitled
‘La plainte humaine’ it is very much more explicitly of
and about its time than the much later work from his older contemporary.
Dedicated to Darius Milhaud, who gave its first performance, there is
a strong and abiding sense of introspective melancholy at work, with
the piano’s trumpet calls reminding us of the circumstances prevailing
at the time of its composition. The terse scherzo embodies a quicksilver
resolve, with their clear hints of Debussy, but this movement dissolves
into a rather austere, reflective slow movement. The finale opens with
a ruminative echo of one of Koechlin’s own songs but slowly builds
up quite powerfully before ending exuding some kind of consolation.
The youngest composer of the three is Tournemire and yet his Suite was
by far the earliest of the works in this disc to be written. Dating
from 1897 it occupies a post-Romantic position, and was dedicated to
Pierre Monteux, himself a violist of repute. This is a good addition
to the repertoire, with some striking moments and exchanges. Because
Tournemire is known best as a composer for organ one might have anticipated
a certain pianistic thickness, but not from the sound of things. In
fact the last movement is ebullient, with a soupçon of Franck
and a dash of folkloric verve.
Steven Dann and James Parker make a first-rate team in these works and
they have done fine service to the three works.
See also review by Byzantion