A Russian composer of French heritage, Georgy Catoire (rhymes with Porgy and Renoir) shows it all in his music: it is clearly somewhere between Tchaikovsky and Arensky on one side, Fauré and Franck on the other. He is virtually unknown now, and was unknown more or less throughout the last century. Some interest was awoken recently, especially by a couple of Hyperion's recordings, like that of Catoire's piano music by the infallible Marc-André Hamelin.
Unfortunately, I cannot say that this disc, as a whole, is a good introduction to Catoire's music. I have not heard other recordings of the two violin pieces, so I cannot be sure whether or not this is the composer's fault. But personally I would blame the violinist, Boris Tsoukkerman. His sound is very uncompromising, direct, hard-pressed. Over the course of the Sonata's 33 minutes this becomes very unwelcome, so that I felt considerable relief in the rare moments where the pressure subsides. The violin sound is often hollow, in some places I suspected pitch problems.
Apart from this, Elégie
is quite lovely, and one can see why Oistrakh played it. It is built, Medtner-like, out of several memorable motifs, and the piano part is very reminiscent of Fauré.
The first movement of the Violin Sonata
starts with violent outbursts, which alternate with calmer, introspective episodes. At times the high emotional verve is worthy of Rachmaninov. But Catoire sense of structure was not yet fully formed. The quiet, lyric second theme is welcome - Wagner's Isolde can be hear here. Sadly the more turbulent episodes rarely rise above the commonplace. The 15-minute movement is also too long for its content - Catoire was a devoted Wagnerite, but not all listeners share this predilection. The slow second movement is another elegy, very Russian. Its sombre tone reminds one of the trios by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. The music reaches the heights of white-hot intensity – but the effect is undermined by the unpleasany harsh sound. The final movement is more or less built on one motif. Although it is a nice motif, it is overused. Brahms in his violin sonatas formed similar ideas into more balanced solutions.
The Piano Quintet
is a different story! This is worth digging out. The first movement starts for all the world like one of Fauré's quintets: moody and brooding. The invention is rich, there is a cloud of motifs, and the harmonic writing is dense. It is very multi-faceted and never becomes boring. The second movement flows naturally out of the first. It is more a change of mood than of form. One hears the bitter-sweet fin-de-siècle longing. The musical architecture is wonderfully imaginative. It only gets better in the third movement, where con spirito
are well-deserved indications. The music is rife with Scriabin's voluptuous fantasy. Catoire succeeds in maintaining the ecstatic flow throughout the movement, constantly shifting the images, changing the textures and juggling the harmonies.
The Quintet is excellently played, with fine balance and careful phrasing. The result is imbued with drama without becoming melodramatic. The tempo choices and changes are very natural and create a "breathing" effect. It's a pity that the coupling does not attain this high level. The liner-notes are in five languages, but do not tell much, besides the meagre performance history of Catoire's output, plus short biographies of the performers. The recording quality of the violin pieces is very good. The recording of the quintet can be bettered in terms of both depth and clearness, although the balance of instruments is good. Still, it is quite adequate. And it's an SACD recording, so maybe it will have more depth on a SACD player.
If you are exploring Catoire's music, or are into French Romantic chamber music, grab this disc for the wonderful Quintet
. If you are not - better listen to the violin pieces before you buy. For me it was not a pleasant experience.
Catoire Violin Sonatas on Avie