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Marie JAËLL (1846-1925)
5 Lieder (1880) [14:48]
Sonate pour violoncello et piano (1881, rev. 1886) [36:15]
4 Mélodies tireés des “Orientales” de Victor Hugo (1893) [15:33]
4 Mélodies [7:58]
Lara Erbès (piano)
Lisa Erbès (cello)
Catherine Dubosc (soprano)
Rec. L’Espace Belle Epoque de Breintenbach (Haut-Rhin) in April 2005
SOLSTICE SOCD 227 [75:53]



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Marie Jaëll was a significant pianist during the latter half of the 19th century – she knew Liszt well and between 1892 and 1894 performed a complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas. Until the last few years, her compositions have been almost forgotten – the first CD devoted to her music appeared only in 1998 and her discography remains meagre. This disc juxtaposes her cello sonata with some songs and provides a welcome opportunity to hear some unjustly neglected music.

Marie Jaëll (née Trautmann) was born into a family of farmers in Alsace. She became a child prodigy, performing in public from the age of nine and then studying with Henri Herz of the Paris Conservatoire. When eventually admitted to the Conservatoire she won the first prize for the piano in 1862. In 1866 she married Alfred Jaëll, who was also an ex-child prodigy pianist but fifteen years her senior. They toured Europe together, often performing duets but Alfred developed health problems and she was widowed at the age of 35. She first met Liszt in 1868 and he is reputed to have said that she had “a philosopher’s brain and an artist’s fingers”. Soon afterwards she began composing and produced inter alia two piano concertos, an orchestral work called Harmonies d’Alsace and a string quartet. For more information about Marie Jaëll’s life and works, follow the links below.

The disc opens with five lieder for which Jaëll also wrote the texts. All these songs are about love and, whilst they are sung in German, the music is unmistakably French. The charming To you is followed by a tempestuous storm which eventually burns itself out, a hymn to the birds and an expression of the bliss of eternal love. The cycle concludes sorrowfully with “The cheek is pale”.

The cello sonata was written soon after the lieder and just before the death of her husband. It is a conventional but substantial work in four movements with an elegiac  slow movement placed third and a second movement that is marked Presto but feels more like an intermezzo than scherzo. The influences of Schumann and Liszt are clear but again, Jaëll’s idiom remains French. It seems that, despite travelling extensively, an attachment to her roots was pervasive in her music. The repertoire is not overloaded with cello sonatas from this period and, in that context, this work seems an important addition. I have not been able to find out about the stimulus for its composition but no less an artist than David Popper gave the première. Jaëll also wrote a cello concerto and I hope that it too will be resurrected and recorded.

The Mélodies based on Victor Hugo’s Orientales were written in the following decade – the 1890s – but they lack a strong feeling of fin du siècle decadence. Jaëll wrote very naturally for the voice and these are powerful creations which seem comparable in stature with Fauré’s mélodies. They embrace a great range of moods and the second, Clair de Lune, opens with a theme which has some resemblance to Schubert’s Der Lindenbaum from Winterreise.  The four mélodies which conclude the disc are slighter works of obscure origin and remain unpublished. Christian Fruchart speculates in the booklet that they were written later still.

The artists all have Strasbourg (i.e. local) connections and give highly committed performances. Catherine Dubosc has the right voice for the songs and is most eloquent. Lisa Erbès is more than equal to the demands of the sonata and Lara Erbès accompanies expertly, pretty much an equal partner in the sonata. The recorded sound is faithful and realistic if slightly unrefined in places.

The presentation and documentation of this disc are excellent – a slimline cardboard base and excellent booklet with good notes and full texts of the songs in English, French and German. There are pictures of Marie Jaëll, a reproduction of a page of her neat manuscript of the cello sonata plus photographs of the artists and recording team in action which do not seek to glamourise the process.

This is a most interesting and worthwhile disc. As a composer, Jaëll seems to have been at least the equal of Chaminade - who was born a decade later - and more recordings of her music would be very welcome.

Patrick C Waller

For more about Marie Jaëll on the web go to:


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