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Guillaume LEKEU (1870-1894)
Sonata for violin and piano in G (1892) [34:18]
Trio for piano, violin and cello in C minor (1890) [43:20]
Bruno Monteiro (violin)
Miguel Rocha (cello)
Joćo Paulo Santos (piano)
rec. 2018, Igreja da Cartuxa, Caxias, Portugal

We would hear a great deal more of Guillaume Lekeu if he had not had the misfortune to die of typhoid at the age of only twenty-four. Nevertheless, he did manage to complete a number of works, of which the two on this disc are the most highly regarded. He also began a cello sonata and a piano quartet, neither of which he was able to finish; they were completed by Vincent d’Indy, who later performed the same service for Chausson’s string quartet. As these names imply, Lekeu was a pupil of Franck and entered wholeheartedly into the Franckian ethos, which included a Wagnerian idiom, high seriousness and a distinctive kind of spirituality.

The violin sonata was commissioned by the great Belgian violinist Eugčne Ysa’e, who had premiered Franck’s violin sonata, which had been written as a wedding present for him and his wife. Not surprisingly, Lekeu’s sonata owes a good deal to his teacher’s work. It has the soaring melodies on the violin, the rich and complex writing for the piano and the emotional intensity which mark out the Franck, and also the cyclical form whereby melodies return in later movements. These similarities are greatest in the first movement, which also has a dreamy opening on the violin and a passionate second theme introduced by the piano. This builds to a huge climax in the development before a calmer recapitulation. The other two movements strike out more on their own. The slow movement is in an irregular metre and draws on a folk melody from Wallonia, perhaps as a tribute to the commissioner. The finale does not attempt to copy Franck’s famous canonic movement but is powerful and somewhat rhapsodic. It is hardly surprising that this work is not the equal of Franck, whose violin sonata was written in his full maturity, whereas Lekeu was at what should have been the beginning of his career, but it is a worthy companion to it.

The marginally earlier piano trio occupies a slightly different emotional world. Rather than being of Franck’s school, it seems to me to be closer to Chausson’s and is very similar in atmosphere to his near-contemporary Concert for violin, piano and string quartet, one of his most attractive works. But there is also a debt to Beethoven, shown in the opening theme, occasional sudden sforzandos and vigorous fugato passages. There are four movements. The first begins with an extended slow introduction which leads to a powerful allegro. The slow movement opens in a meditative and subdued mood though it builds up to some massive statements. The scherzo is not in the least light-hearted but fierce, and the finale is energetic. Lekeu was dissatisfied with this work but he need not have been. Doubtless he would have gone on to write finer works but this certainly earns its place.

The performers here are a Portuguese team; Monteiro and Santos are established duo partners who have previously recorded for Brilliant Classics the violin and piano music of Erwin Schulhoff, one of the Czech Jewish composers murdered by the Nazis (review)  and the violin and piano music of Szymanowski (review). Monteiro has the rich and full-blooded tone Lekeu’s violin writing requires, and Santos has all the technique in the world, which he certainly needs for Lekeu’s elaborate piano parts. The tone of the cellist, Rocha, is similar to that of Monteiro, and he fits in well into the trio. I have no complaints about the recording quality. There are sleeve notes in English and Portuguese and an attractive cover picture; this is a stylish production.

There are many other recordings of the Lekeu violin sonata – it is his best-known work – and a search on MWI immediately threw up another half dozen. The trio is slightly less popular but has also had several recordings. The coupling of the two makes sense, so, unless you are going to go for Lekeu’s complete works (review) this is a convenient way of collecting two very worthy works of the Franckist school.

Stephen Barber



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