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Chrystel MARCHAND (b. 1958)
Piano Sonata No. 2, after fragments of Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate (2012) [13:44]
Two moments musicaux (1995) [6:07]
La valleuse aux fées, for four hands [5:13]
Two Narrative Pieces (2001-07) [6:17]
Piano Sonata No. 1, in memoriam Nadia Boulanger (1980) [12:31]
Digressions (1983-84) [5:43]
Allégories (1989) [13:01]
Aurélien Richard (piano)
Jean-Pierre Ferey (piano four hands)
rec. 2012, Chapelle Notre-Dame des Aydes de Blois, France
SKARBO DSK1123 [63:50]

As far as I'm aware, this is the only recording devoted exclusively to the music of Chrystel Marchand. She was born in 1958, studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Claude Baillif and Serge Nigg, spent some time with Nadia Boulanger and holds a doctorate in musicology from the University of Paris. Aside from solo piano music, her compositional oeuvre embraces works for string orchestra, wind ensemble, vocal and chamber music. She works in education and research in Paris.

The two Piano Sonatas form the centrepiece of this recital. The First Sonata dates from 1980 and is dedicated to Nadia Boulanger. In three movements, the opener is a serious affair, comprising of solemn chords or knells. There follows a Très modéré which, despite its tortuous character, does veer towards lyricism. The finale contains faint whisperings of Chopin’s Barcarolle, a piece Marchand had worked on with Boulanger. An air of resignation ends the work.

I much prefer the Second Sonata, penned twenty-two years later in 2012. It seems altogether more accomplished. The composer was inspired to write it after reading Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, his magnum opus from 1960. The music reflects the tragedy of the death camps depicted in the novel, and conforms to the rhythm of the book’s chapters. Throughout this one-movement work, the forces of good and evil are pitched against each other. Good is portrayed with lyricism, evil with harsh, angular and brutal dissonance. Irina Shostakovich is the dedicatee.

The Two moments musicaux (1995) are, in the words of the composer, an attempt to “search for a great lyrical curve that explores the piano's registers as well as its textures". The first portrays characters that are heroic and poetic, with particular reference to Micheline Ostermeyer (1922-2001), one of Marchand's piano professors, who was also an Olympic champion in the London Games of 1948. The second is darker and less impetuous, and is quite elfin and dance-like in parts. Just over ten years later come the Two Narrative Pieces. The first Sans Eurydice laments the death of one of the composer's students. Its somber and elegiac character incorporates quotations form Berlioz and Chopin.  No. 2, titled Retrouver Eurydice is quite discordant and angular, and underpinned by a melancholy similar to its companion’s.

Digressions is an early work, a sort of theme and variations. It runs a sinuous course and sounds more atonal than the other works on the disc. Allégories, written in 1989, is a suite of three pieces, each “a symbolic representation of the material of three visual artists”. No. 1 portrays the motion and line of a Yves Bodiou sculpture, whilst No. 2 depicts the impasto of Jacques Dromart’s canvasses. The last one is concerned with the precision of Chantal Lascurettes’ dry-point.

For La valleuse aux fées, for four hands, Aurélien Richard is joined by Jean-Pierre Ferey. The work is inspired by the Norman legend “The City of Limas”. It’s in lighter vein than much of the other music on the disc, and provides a pleasing contrast.

Aurélien Richard is a persuasive advocate of Marchand’s music. His rich palette of colourful sonorities showcases this music at its very best. He’s been well-recorded, with the piano sitting well in the spacious, yet warm, acoustic of the Chapelle Notre-Dame des Aydes de Blois. Marchand provides her own liner notes.

Stephen Greenbank



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