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Françoise CHOVEAUX (b. 1953)
Symphony Indigo for string orchestra, Op.2 (1993) [13:10]
Elegy for cello and piano, Op.68 (2001) [6:16]
Quintet for harp and string quartet, Op.72 (2000) [14:22]
Symphony Blanche for string orchestra and timpani, Op.100 (2001) [11:31]
Piano Quintet, Op.108 (2002) [13:49]
Irina Molokina (cello)
Irina Karpus (harp)
Olga Minkina (organ)
Francoise Choveaux, Yuri Serov (piano)
Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet
St Petersburg Chamber Orchestra/Yuri Serov
rec. 2001/2, St. Catherine Lutheran Church, St Petersburg

Françoise Choveaux is a French pianist and composer with a sizeable number of compositions to her name. She studied at the Lille Regional Conservatory of Music, the École Normale de Musique in Paris, the Peabody Institute in Baltimore and the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. Between 1999 and 2001 she was composer in residence at the Abbaye de la Prée. I was interested to read that in 1992 Choveaux recorded the complete piano works of Darius Milhaud (3 CDs on the Saphir label). The set has garnered wide critical acclaim over the years. As for her own music, it stems from a tradition firmly anchored in the 19th century.

Choveaux gleans inspiration for her music from people and places. Artists have played an important role in this regard. It's no surprise that her work embodies, in words of the musicologist and critic Marc Vignol, "A strong and colourful universe". She titled each of her series of three symphonies for strings with a particular colour. In the early nineties, the composer stayed with the painter Arthur Van Hecke in a Flemish village. Van Hecke's paintings were inspired by the changing mass of clouds. The Symphony Indigo came into being about this time and the paintings surely were a source of inspiration for the three movement work. There are dark undercurrents in the opening movement, with the middle movement similarly scripted. Respite comes in the Presto outer sections of the finale, where the rhythms are persistent. At its centre is lyricism of calm and peace.

In the Symphony Blanche, Op. 100, Choveaux complements the strings with organ and kettledrums. The booklet notes describe it as “spiritual and mystical". Its three movements bear the titles: 1. Crucifixion; 2. Forgiveness; 3. Resurrection. The first movement sounds ominous whilst an element of repose suffuses the second. The orchestral textures in this movement are light and diaphanous. Resurrection is triumphant and it's here that the kettledrums make a potent impact. 

The Harp Quintet came into being after the composer read some poetry by the French poet Pierre de Ronsard. The harp sits well with the string quartet, the two blending together with captivating results. The three sections are titled as follows:
1st part: “Mignonne, allons voir si la rose…” (Darling, let's look if the rose…)
2nd part: “En essuyant mes yeux par la mort endormis…” (In wiping away my tears with slipping Death).
3rd part: “Chanson du Printemps” (Song of spring)

The 2nd part is entrancing – a serene, memorable siciliana of radiant colour. The work is dedicated to the excellent harp player on this recording: Isabelle Moretti.

The most recent work in this collection, dated 2002, is the Piano Quintet, Op.108. It was dedicated to the Vilnius String Quartet. Choveaux tells us that each movement is based on the character of one of its players. So we have Tempestuous, Attentively, Lovingly and Warlike. The Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet offer a convincing interpretation, putting plenty of personality into their performance. They make great play of contrasting the movements' disparate dispositions whether it be the soothing strains of Lovingly or the menacing stride of Warlike.

The Elegy for cello and piano relates the love between George Sand and Alfred de Musset, with whom she had a passionate affair. This romantic reverie calls for some virtuosic playing from the cellist and the performance is well-served by Irina Molokina.

Handsomely presented, all the works receive excellent performances in superb sound. I see that some of the works have been available on CD in alternative recordings before, but I haven't had the opportunity to make any comparisons. On the evidence here, I look forward to hearing more of the composer's music.

Stephen Greenbank

Information received

Since this review was published we have learend that the disc is a reissue of one that originally appeared on the Belgian label De Rode Pomp in 2002.

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