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Pierre de BRÉVILLE (1861-1949)
Violin Sonata No 1 in C sharp minor (1918-19) [37'36]
(Mouvement modéré [12'04]; Gai, mais pas trop vite [5'17]; Lamento: extrêmement lent [10'00]; Modérément animé et martial [10'00])
Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)

Suite: Dans la montagne (1904-5, revised 1906) [32'29]
(En plein vent [8'17]; Le soir [7'51]; Jour de fête [6'54]; Dans le bois au printemps [9'09])
Philippe Graffin (violin)
Pascal Devoyon (piano)
Recorded on 19–21 November 2003
HYPERION CDA67427 [70.16]

 

Pierre de Bréville was born in Lorraine in 1861. His most famous teacher was Franck with whom he studied counterpoint, fugue and composition and whose memory he revered for the rest of his life. Like a number of French contemporaries he paid the obligatory Bayreuth pilgrimage (in 1882 where he met Liszt and Bruckner) and again in 1888 with Fauré and Debussy amongst the Gallic contingent. His largest scale music was operatic and vocal – though his only completed opera was Eros vainqueue and it had a chequered performance history – but he did write quite an amount of chamber music.

The Violin Sonata of 1918-19 was to be followed by those for cello in 1930 and for viola in 1944 but it was the violin that touched him most; in all he wrote five sonatas for the instrument between 1919 and 1947. The first was premiered by George Enescu and one of the doyennes of the Parisian Piano School and later the Catalan, Blanche Selva, in March 1920. It’s a big four-movement work lasting about thirty-eight minutes. The opening has a real lyric curve, strongly Fauréan, with an extremely busy piano part. The violin writing is nicely and richly characterised and de Bréville ensures that the player has plenty to do as he swoops between the upper and lower strings, soaring acrobatically one moment, descending to more guttural introspection the next. This kaleidoscopic turbulence is a recurrent feature of the sonata though the tolling motif at the end conjures the aggressive intimations to come. I should also mention the ultra glorious melody at the core of the first movement. The second movement, marked Gai, is lissom and lively topped by a pizzicato jaunt but the slow movement bears the weight of the sonata. Rolled chords and a sense of isolation and lament runs throughout (the work was dedicated to the memory of Lieutenant Gervais Cazes). The piano picks up the earlier tolling, pealing theme before a new lyric theme emerges for the fiddle, beautiful but ultimately impermanent. The martial and tense finale may remind one glancingly of Alkan but much more of Franck, both procedurally and melodically. The piano part also sounds unremitting and fiendish, another tribute to his teacher’s own Violin Sonata which must be on of the most awkward and difficult in the book. The two players fling themselves into these demands with real power and conviction. Pascal Devoyon is unremitting with the piano part whilst Graffin is full of colour and glint; maybe too much so indeed. There were a few occasions in the first movement when his lower strings sounded rather bulgy and out of scale, due mainly to over-intensified vibrato usage.

Canteloube’s Suite was, by contrast to de Bréville’s, a prentice work. He sent it to his teacher d’Indy (by correspondence, Canteloube lived in the Lot and couldn’t meet him) and d’Indy sent back some bracing, practical but encouraging advice. Taking advantage of d’Indy’s perception Canteloube refined the suite further till it met approval and was published in 1906 – though there was a second edition in 1933. It’s a half-hour four-movement suite and full of freshness and colour. Rippling piano figuration animates the opening movement and an elegant, simply songful violin, a more animated central section with trilling and then hoarse throated fiddle writing. Subtle colouration courses through the second movement, Le Soir. From chordal depth to filigree the piano supports the fiddle’s firefly trills with acumen and a certain degree of wonder, evoking night with warmth. Canteloube never shies away from native folk influence and he douses the third movement in plaintive folksy music. The most obvious influence in the finale is impressionism, from its verdant rustling opening we hear the emergence of the melody made famous in Chants d’Auvergne — this is where it started! Wonderfully simple and effective it is too, in this version. Throughout the two musicians play with great felicity though again I must register (perhaps a solo) reservation about Graffin’s queasy bowing and on/off vibrato which gives way to isolated cases of over vibration for expressive effect.

Martin Anderson’s booklet notes are a model of their kind and though we don’t discover exactly where Graffin and Devoyon were recorded Hyperion has accorded them a marvellously apposite sound.

Jonathan Woolf



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