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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Vol 2: Crotchet

André JOLIVET (1905-1974)
Piano Music: Volume 1
Cosmogonie (1938) [10:19]; Sarabande sur le nom d’Erik Satie (1925) [3:57]; Mana (1934) [13:03]; Etude sur les modes antiques (1944) [3:43]; Deux mouvements (1930) [15:50]; Romance barbare (1920) [3:39]; From Bom Bo (1935) [1:16]; Tango (1927) [3:10]; Algeria – Tango (1934) [2:19]; El viejo camello (1935) [1:37]; Danses pour Zizou (1934) [1:01]; Madia (1935) [0:54]; Sidi Ya Ya (1934) [6:54]
Pascal Gallet (piano)
rec. Salle Jeanne d’Albret, St-Germain en Laye, June 2003
MAGUELONE MAG 111.136 [68:58]

André JOLIVET (1905-1974)
Piano Music: Volume 2
Danses rituelles (1939) [28:21]; Trois temps (1930) [7:40]; Deuxième sonate (1957) [18:36]; Berceuse dans un hamac (1951) [2:18]; Danse caraïbe (1963) [0:20]; Danse roumaine (1949) [1:31]; Chansons naïves (1951) [15:23]
Pascal Gallet (piano)
rec. Salle Jeanne d’Albret, St-Germain en Laye, September 2004
MAGUELONE MAG 111.137 [70:16]

 

 

A quick look at the details of the pieces featured in these two volumes of Jolivet’s piano music prompts a number of preliminary remarks. First, although the cello was his instrument, Jolivet composed a considerable number of piano pieces, both small and large. Second, most of his piano music, with the exceptions of Mana (1934) and the piano sonatas (1945 and 1957), has long been overlooked. These two discs include a considerable number of hitherto unrecorded and little-known pieces. Third, there will certainly be a third volume since Pascal Gallet has still to record the First Piano Sonata. Fourth, many of the early pieces are fairly short and show the composer exploring various techniques, from simple dance forms to more harmonically complex structures. Fifth, and most importantly to my mind, the fastidious craftsmanship lavished by the composer, be it on a short didactic piece or a substantial work, such as Mana, Danses rituelles and the piano sonatas.

The earliest piece of all is Romance barbare, written when the composer was 15, which seems almost incredible when considering the high level of technical proficiency already on display. During the years preceding World War II, Jolivet set about exploring various techniques, which had him briefly toying with twelve-tone and serial writing. This is certainly to be heard in Trois temps (1930) and in the rather better-known Mana (1934). In other pieces from that period he explored various aspects of rhythm through reliance on popular dance rhythms of the time such as Tango and Ragtime. This is quite clear in the short pieces concluding Volume 1. One of these, however, should be singled-out for being at odds with the other easy-going pieces; although they must nevertheless be rather tricky to play. In spite of its somewhat humorous title, Sidi Ya Ya, subtitled “prelude”, is as beautifully crafted a piece as one may wish, and pays sincere tribute to Debussy. Similarly, the short Sarabande sur le nom d’Erik Satie pays homage to the recently deceased composer by alluding to Satie’s often deceptive simplicity, though without blunt imitation. In this piece as in many of the shorter works featured here, Jolivet never writes down and manages to challenge the skills of his players. Just listen to his writing for young players in Berceuse dans un hamac, Danse caraïbe, Danse roumaine and the delightful Chansons naïves. This is, I firmly believe, the mark of a true master.

Various important works from the mid-1920s and 1930s see the composer tackling different techniques and harmonic realms. These may be considered somewhat experimental, although each of them provides a completely satisfying musical experience. This is certainly the case with the substantial suite Mana, inspired by objects (of which two are by Alexander Calder) given to Jolivet by his mentor and friend Edgard Varèse. The music, so to say, ritualises the objects without ever trying to make things exotic or merely descriptive. In fact, the music of Mana is a completely abstract ritual, musically indebted to Berg, whom Jolivet admired, and to Varèse. But the suite as a whole is entirely personal and clearly displays a number of features that one has come to regard as Jolivet hallmarks, such as the importance of rhythm, primeval paganism and a strong liking for clear-cut contrasting musical ideas. The music made a strong impression on Messiaen who wrote an illuminating and important foreword to the score; reprinted in full in the insert notes accompanying Volume 1. Some time later, Jolivet and Messiaen joined with Daniel-Lesur and Baudrier, and founded the short-lived but important group Jeune France, mainly as a reaction to the Neo-Classicism of Stravinsky and his followers. In Jeune France’s manifesto, Yves Baudrier wrote that “Music must untiringly provide its spiritual violence and its generous reactions to all those who love it ... [the group] will aim at spreading a living music, with sincerity, generosity and artistic honesty”. One can easily understand why Jolivet joined the group, i.e. besides his friendship for Messiaen and his other colleagues. Though written two years before Jeune France’s founding, the music of Mana clearly reflected the group’s main concerns. Two pieces written after the group’s founding, Cosmogonie (1938) and Cinq danses rituelles, obviously adhere to the group’s ideas. Not a single trace of the ambient Neo-Classicism in these strongly rhythmical, and often rugged pieces that are both concerned with Creation and with some sort of intimate Paganism. Jolivet once confessed admiration for Berg, but his high regard for Bartók is also clearly to be heard in these powerfully impressive pieces. Both pieces also exist in orchestral versions made by the composer some time later. The composer conducted a recorded performance of Cinq danses rituelles [now in André Jolivet – The Erato Recordings, reviewed here some time ago]. The somewhat earlier Trois temps and Deux mouvements, both composed in 1930, cast a last glance at what might be referred to as the classical suite but obviously experienced through Jolivet’s own microscope. Again there is no blunt imitation of Bach or Rameau, but rather sincere homage to his musical ancestors. Etude sur des modes antiques (1944) was written at the request of the French publisher Durand in an attempt to propagate the so-called simplified notation method of Obouhov; the initiative proved unsuccessful in spite of the interest shown by several composers including Honegger. The piece remained on the publisher’s shelves until 1970 when Jolivet “transcribed” it into normal notation. This short piece also reflects one of Jolivet’s lifelong concerns: modality.

The piano sonatas (1945 and 1957) are both mature works that may be regarded as amongst his finest pieces, and – no doubt – as some of the most outstanding piano sonatas composed in the second half of the 20th century. The Second Piano Sonata is compact in three movements. The music represents Jolivet’s own blend of serialism, no doubt still influenced by Berg rather then Webern. It is also a very demanding and taxing piece, both for the player and the listener. It is powerfully expressive, uncompromising music that does not yield its secrets in one hearing; unquestionably one of his masterpieces.

Jolivet’s piano music is a sizeable and important part of his output, and one that has been long overlooked. The earlier pieces trace his musical progress before World War II, whereas the others illustrate the wide variety of his musical world. The pieces featured in these discs certainly add to our appreciation of Jolivet’s achievement.

Pascal Gallet, a pupil of Yvonne Loriod, plays magnificently throughout and is clearly in tune with the music. He plays the shorter pieces for all they are worth, with verve and lightness of touch, whereas his performances of the weightier works have obviously benefited from meticulous preparation of these difficult scores and from a deep belief in the music’s indomitable strength. Excellent recording and generous insert notes. An absolute must for all the admirers of Jolivet’s music, but I am sure that many will derive much pleasure from the shorter, more accessible pieces before facing the demanding, but ultimately rewarding challenges of the bigger works. I hope that the third volume will be released shortly.

My Records of the Month.

Hubert Culot

 

 

 

 

 



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