> VIERNE Chamber works [RB]: Classical Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
The chamber works

Violin Sonata Op. 23 (1907) [34.31]
Rhapsodie for solo harp Op. 25 (1909) [10.44]
Piano Quintet Op. 42 (1917) [30.23]
Le Soir for viola and piano Op.5 (1895) [4.01]
Légende(suite) for viola and piano Op. 5 (1895) [1.56]
Cello Sonata Op. 27 (1910) [23.44]
Largo et Canzonetta for oboe and piano Op.6 (1896) [6.15]
Soirs Étrangers for cello and piano (1928) Op. 56 [26.31]
String Quartet Op. 12 (1894) [21.04]
Quatuor Phillips
CD1: François Kerdoncuff (piano); Alexis Galpérine (violin); Pascale Zanlonghi (harp); Odile Carracilly (viola)
CD2: Olivier Gardon (piano); Yvan Chiffoleau (cello); Christian Moreaux (oboe)
rec Op. 23 Salle Adyar 6-8 June 1990; Opp.27/56 Salle Adyar 20-22 Mar 1991; Opp. 5/25 Théâtre de Poissy 25 Aug 1993; Opp. 6, 12, 42; 17-20 Sept 1993. DDD
TIMPANI 2C2019 [2CDs: 79.40+78.52]
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When Timpani set about championing a particular composer they do not mess about. There are no half measures. Vierne, for too long conveniently organ-lofted has had his complete songs, piano music, chamber music and songs recorded by Timpani. The chamber music and piano music is each accorded a double CD. A pity that the two chamber music CDs could not have been housed in a single width case rather than the cumbersome double in which they appear here. This is a minor gripe in a case where the company has used the disc space to its practical limit. Look at the playing time of these discs.

The Violin Sonata is in four movements and the Galpérine/Kerdoncuff team are finely matched together and with the music as they were in the imperious Second Violin Sonata of Wilhelm Furtwängler also on Timpani (1C1001). The first of the four movements has all the imperious tumult of the first movement of the Cras Piano Quintet (on Timpani 1C1066). The andante is a moonlit time-pent meditation with adventurous harmony rather veering into the slippery romanticism of the John Foulds Cello Sonata. A devilish vivace rather like Saint-Saëns leads to an impassioned largamente and allegro agitato. This was written with Raoul Pugno and Eugene Ysaye in mind but a 'friend' premiered it and did not make the best of it. To cap it all Vierne was to discover that the 'friend' was the lover of Vierne's wife , Arlette.

The Rhapsody for solo harp is an extended concert essay which in 1915 was chosen by Fauré as the set-piece for the Conservatoire exams. It sounds both technically challenging and gorgeous; the latter being a tough trick to pull off with a solo instrument exposed to attention in this way. Great variation in dynamics is specified and delivered by Zanlonghi.

The Piano Quintet has had at least three recordings and this duplication is well merited in a work written à la mémoire de son fils Jacques. Jacques is pictured on p. 21 of Jean-Pierre Mazeirat's notes. Fresh faced and in uniform the picture was taken as he left for the Front. He was killed on 11 November 1917. Vierne already under threat of blindness from glaucoma, and with his marriage to Arlette a ruin now blamed himself for having consented to Jacques joining up. He wrote the Quintet intending to express his grief. The violin theme at 4.55 expresses most sincerely and adroitly his grieving as does the plangent tenderness of the Larghetto which is mellow as Delius and warm as remembered sunshine. It is a most beautiful invention. Vierne wrote of the work that he would bury his son 'with a roar of thunder not with the plaintive bleating of a resigned, stupid sheep.' The finale shivers and shudders with shell-blasts and violence before picking up the overweening aggressive confidence of the first movement with which it ends after one more return to the haunted battlefields. The work closes in one breathless stabbing access of violence. There is no twilit farewell.

Le Soir and Légende are the Deux Pièces for viola and piano - polished and mellifluous in the case of the former and antique in the case of the latter. They were written for his kindly teacher Pierre Adam who died just as Vierne finished his studies.

Vierne selected Pablo Casals as the dedicatee of his Cello Sonata. This is another impassioned work which can be compared with the cello sonatas of Rachmaninov, York Bowen and John Foulds. If the Maestoso of the Piano Quintet is one of the most audacious Vierne conceptions the central largamente is the most noble and declamatory movement. The finale is sensuous and dramatic.

The Largo and Canzonetta for oboe and piano: The Largo draws inspiration from Bach - like some slightly updated Cavatina. The Canzonetta is more light-hearted.

Then comes the Soirs Étrangers - a collection of mood pictures. The first, Granada can be added to the list of music written by French composers to summon up images of Spain. These ‘pictures’ were written in Lausanne where he stayed with the Vuillemins recovering from the devastation of the loss of Jacques. Lausanne came to mean a great deal to the composer. Lake Leman is an impassioned and liquidly flowing impressionistic portrait with the cello acting as the orator of a long-breathed tune. Venice is suggested by a barcarole. Canadian Steppe is a decidedly pessimistic portrait. If these are postcards they are grown-up postcards without easy victories. Here, awe at the great unpopulated distances, shades into fear. To dispel the bleakness along comes Goldfish which is a study in flashing speed and surging cello celerity - a sort of Flight of the Bumble Bee but with air substituted by water and fins for wings. It ends in a curiously casual but well-balanced gesture. This last movement somehow is too light for all that precedes it. These reflective globe-trotting esquisses are typical of a widely-travelled concert virtuoso who was used to travelling in Europe and North America.

In 1894, while in Caen on holiday, he wrote at hot tempo two movements of a String Quartet and by September has finished the other two movements. This is the work of a 24 year old. Vierne writes warm and enveloping music and his theme for the first movement is superbly rounded and most admirably handled. The spiky and songful intermezzo has traces of a fantastic Sabbath about it rather like a sort of pre-teens witches-flight - a cross between Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain, Liadov's Baba Yaga, Schierbeck's Hexen and Dukas’s Sorcerer's Apprentice. The andante is in thrall to the Siegfried Idyll; indeed Vierne revered Wagner. The finale runs skittering away like Mendelssohn's scherzo from Midsummer Night's Dream. It ends in a duetting blaze which leaping from the pages of Bach's Double Violin Concerto.

These are first recordings of all apart from the piano quintet (already on both Pierre Verany and Hyperion) and the Cello Sonata.

A de rigueur purchase and certainly a generous one. Essential listening for the sonatas, quintet and the Rhapsodie. Otherwise never less than pleasing. Everything is presented to Timpani's accustomed high standards.

Rob Barnett

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