I have the impression that France is all too ready
to allow apathy to choke the glories of their late-romantic musical
culture. Why are there no recordings of Guy-Ropartz's symphonies (excluding
number 3)? What has France done for Lazzari, for Canteloube, for Witkowski
.... the list continues.
Against the trends Arion have issued this diamond of
a disc by a composer I have never heard of let alone heard.
Bonnal was born in Bordeaux and entered the Paris Conservatoire
at age seventeen. There he studied with de Bériot, Vierne, Tournemire
and Fauré. He held various organist positions and indeed wrote
much for the 'King of Instruments'. In 1920 after being denied the post
of organ professor at Strasbourg he took up various teaching and organ
appointments at Bayonne. His music struggled against the illogical snobbism
associated with a provincial (i.e. non-Parisian) career.
The four movement First Quartet is a work of
Ravelian abundance and torrential floodtide. The lyrical candlepower
of the music comes from the same source as the Ravel quartet, the Herbert
Howells Piano Quartet and the Fauré Piano Quartet No. 1. The
Quatuor Debussy must surely have played these works in concert for their
confidence is undeniable. In the second movement of No. 1 they inhale
the bustling undisciplined air of woodland and headland - honeyed spinneys,
dazzle, spume and ozone. The third movement relents with a more expressionistic
line shadowing Schrecker and Van Dieren. Not so long ago I was listening
to the Nimbus recordings of two of the Karl Weigl quartets. I noted
a kindred nostalgia in this third movement as I did in Weigl's Fourth
and Fifth Quartets. For the finale we are back to Ravel and early Fauré
with a hint of Warlock's instrumental writing for The Curlew.
The delicacy and faultless judgement of the Quatuor Debussy (eg at 06.10
in IV) are blessings indeed to Bonnal's music. The Calvet Quartet toured
this work across the world. The wonder is that it has, until now, disappeared
Bonnal had as much of an interest in folksong (specifically
that of South West France) as Canteloube had in folksong generally.
Folksong enlivens and is as much part of the warp and woof of his music
as in the cases of Moeran, Vaughan Williams and Bartók. Its inheritance
is woven into the impressionistic skein, the lithely drawn lines and
tickling dynamic gradations of all this music. Listen to the range from
pp to ff in the fourth movement of the First Quartet.
The Second Quartet is marginally more distant
and sepia-toned but the complexity and floating, seethingly mellifluous
liquefaction is still there - resolute and winged in both the first
and last of the three movements. This is a real discovery denied even
the benefit of the Calvet's international advocacy. Bonnal died six
years later in the middle of the Occupation - too late to see the liberation.
The Quatuor Debussy and note-writer
Michel le Naour have convinced me that Bonnal's
music deserves much greater currency. Arion
have not stinted on translation either. The
English version reads with fluency and despatch.
Can I just add that Arion's design values
far excel the sad norm established elsewhere
in the classical CD field. The choice of the
Odile Redon landscape which adorns the cover
was a masterful one. As with many French discs
the jewel case has gone and in its stead we
get a sturdy triple fold card case with the
usual mounting rose for the CD and a pocket
into which slips the booklet. I can only hector
Arion about the lack of more Bonnal on this
disc. Letís have more please. Let's also have
recordings of the two orchestral symphonies,
the Symphonie for organ and orchestra (a natural
for Guild, surely), the Basque ballet and
suite and the Fantaisie Landaise for
piano and orchestra.
Bonnal is as desperately
neglected as Witkowski whose orchestral music
must surely be revived, as must that of Joseph
Marx whose Herbstsymphonie and Naturtrilogie
I keep haranguing you with, Silvio Lazzari's
opera La Lépreuse, and the five
symphonies of Guy-Ropartz.
I urge you strongly to seek out this sheerly magical