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Pierre Onfroy de BRÉVILLE (1861-1949)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in C sharp minor (1918-19) [37:36]
Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)

Suite: Dans la montagne: I En plein vent; II Le soir; III Jour de fête; IV Dans le bois au printemps. (1904-6) [32:29]
Philippe Graffin (violin)
Pascal Devoyon (piano)
Rec. 19-21 Nov 2003. DDD
HYPERION CDA67427 [70:04]

Graffin has already given us a superb traversal of the Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto (AVIE - see review) and a mixed recital of French works for violin and orchestra. He has also recorded all three Saint-Saëns concertos and the music for violin and piano. The Chausson chamber music, the sonatas by Goldmark and Walter, together with the works for violin and piano by Ysaÿe also appear in his section of the Hyperion catalogue. Here continues his exploration of the rarer French repertoire with this pairing of rare works by two French composers. Canteloube’s name is familiar because of his delectably lambent arrangements of the Songs of the Auvergne; rites of passage works for young sopranos although none has eclipsed the young Netania Davrath (Vanguard). As for de Bréville I suspect that his music is completely unknown except to very few. Some may know of his name but that’s about it.

Martin Anderson provides the notes and I hope that more use will be made of him. He writes well and with an uncommonly wide frame of reference. From him we learn that de Bréville was born in the Lorraine. Under parental pressure he was groomed for the French diplomatic service but eventually he broke free and immersed himself in music. He studied composition in Paris with Franck. He travelled uncommonly widely including to Norway and Turkey (there is an orchestral suite: Stamboul). In addition to his 105 songs there is an opera Eros vainqueur (1900, premiered in Brussels in 1910), a sonata each for cello (1930) and viola (1944), five violin sonatas (the last written in 1947), a mass, an overture to La Princesse Maleine and a piano sonata (1922). He was also active as a music critic.

De Bréville’s sonata is a meaty work. Its epic Franckian proportions and sweetly inclined capricious style encourage and receive playing of rhapsodic spontaneity. The writing is sunnily Elysian - saturated in sunset warmth yet not prone to Delian meandering. The second movement glints in contented warmth like a slow moving river its surface broken by the fractured diamonds of the sun; there is a hint of regret there as well. In the finale the idiom coasts closely to Herbert Howells’ pastoral-ecstatic as in the early violin sonatas and the piano quartet. Melody washes over the listener in a generalised way. The sonata was written in memory of Lieutenant Gervais Cazes - presumably a victim of the Great War.

Canteloube was a pupil at the Schola Cantorum, at which de Bréville taught. Of course there are his many songs including the Triptych, marvellously recorded by Frederica von Stade with RCA - yet still unavailable on CD. To be added to this heritage are various piano pieces, a Marche Funèbre, pieces for solo piano, the Poème for violin and orchestra already recorded by Graffin for Hyperion (CDA67294) and the unjustly neglected opera Le Mas - said to be ‘very lively’ and ‘based on the aesthetic charm of regional inspiration.’

In the Canteloube the themes and treatment are more distinctive and memorable. He is also very good at intriguing ostinati and counter-melodies setting up a tension released by the violin’s singing line. Listen also to the profoundly touching episode close of Le Soir from 5.03 onwards where Housman’s dream of the land of lost content is translated to the Languedoc. Jour de fête is game and playful with much use of pizzicato and the sort of harmonic paprika we hear in Saint-Saëns wonderful Caprice Andalou and in Sarasate’s Hispanic solos. From 3.12 we hear a fragmented suggestions of the Canteloube songs. By contrast Dans le bois makes glowing use of the song Baïlero (from Songs of the Auvergne). The singing violin line is floated over an elusively impressionistic carpet of rustling activity from the piano. Finally elegy and sunset meet in a contented farewell.

This is a completely idiomatic recording of two fine and rewarding works from the French musical renaissance - far too long neglected. At this rate, who knows, we may yet have recordings of such Gallic rarities as Lazzari’s operas and G.M. Witkowski’s symphonies (1901, 1911), Poème de la Maison (1920) and Mon Lac (1921) for piano and orchestra; not to mention the six symphonies of Ropartz.

Here then are two substantial and rare French works for violin and piano. The style is intensely lyrical and they are played with utter conviction, typically presented in Hyperion’s honest, well judged sound and superbly documented.

Rob Barnett

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