Yvon BOURREL (b. 1932)
Six Poèmes (d’après des ‘landays’ de femmes pashtounes), Op.119 (2004) [10:45]
Three Impromptus (Hommage à Germaine Richier), Op.116 (2003) [7:13]
Piano Sonata No.1, Op.53 (1980) [15:22]
Six Petites Pièces, Op.106 (2000) [9:07]
Trois Pièces (Hommage à Colette), Op.120 (2004) [10:50]
Variations on a theme of Couperin, Op.110 (2001) [12:46]
Variations on French folkloric song, Op.127 (2012) [6:07]
Daniel Propper (piano)
rec. 2015, Rennes

Yvon Bourrel was born in a small town between Valenciennes and Solesmes in 1932. He studied the piano and following an important meeting with Darius Milhaud began taking lessons in counterpoint and composition – ultimately with Milhaud himself and also with Jean Rivier. A series of teaching appointments followed in different state schools until his retirement in 1993. Though he has composed in a variety of categories – from opera to string quartets - he has composed 16 works for solo piano and it’s the piano that is the focus of this immaculately produced disc.

Six Poèmes (d’après des ‘landays’ de femmes pashtounes), Op.119 is dedicated to the memory of Sayd Bahodine Majrouh, the dean of arts in Kabul and governor the province of Kapica, who sought refuge in Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, only to be assassinated in February 1988. Though it evokes the landays or short Pashtun poems – the Pashtuns are a majority ethnic group in Afghanistan – it’s not in any way pastiche. The music is tonal, refined but with deft harmonic shifts and flickers. It covers wide emotive states, often ‘calme’ but in the penultimate case veritably ‘vers la flamme’ in its drama and excitement. The final piece, marked Lent, is melancholic yet has a cumulatively and quietly affirmative quality that draws the cycle to a rewarding close.

The three Impromptus date from 2003 and mix and match driving elements with Chopinesque filigree and warmth. The heady lyricism of the central Impromptu prefaces a finale that captures, perfectly, the ‘fluide’ quality of the wring – crystalline, brilliant, a nature setting evoking water that is genuinely full of movement. The earliest work is the Piano Sonata No.1 of 1980 which yet again reveals Bourrel’s gift for unforced lyricism, contextualised with lively, sometimes even aggressive – but always tonal – material.

The Six Petites Pièces are charmers, evoking the eighteenth-century but pianistically speaking not trying to suggest or promote harpsichord sonorities. There’s a touching homage to Beethoven along the way – Bourrel always honours his distinguished musical forbears and has cited Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn, as well as Chopin, in particular. At home he grew to admire, through recordings principally, the music of such as Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, Martinů, Copland, Britten and Shostakovich.

Burgundian folk-songs are encoded in the Trois Pièces – warmly and richly and with assured and appropriate hints of grandeur in the final of the three, the Palais-Royal. Two variations close the disc. The Couperin variations – a theme and 12 variations – are dextrous, delightfully voiced and where appropriate – as in variation No.5 – touchingly romantic. The more compact Variations on French folkloric song, Op.127 has an elegant and compact charm and indeed delight in its material. Bourrel’s metier in his piano music is as a miniaturist, a crafter of precise effects, whether dappled or resonant, with a finely calibrated sense of harmony. He has something of the beautiful singularity of Déodat de Séverac about him; and, in a somewhat different context maybe, the concentration on small musical spaces of someone like Mompou, who was similarly engrossed with the human voice, and with folkloric music.

Pianist Daniel Propper does Bourrel proud in this well-recorded disc, and the booklet, in French and English, is very attractively produced.

Jonathan Woolf