Louise FARRENC (1804-1875)
Sonata No. 2 in A major op. 39 for Violin and Piano (1850-55) [25:04]
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Nocturne for Violin and Piano (1911) [2:54]
Pauline VIARDOT-GARClA (1821-1910)
Sonatine in A minor for Violin and Piano (1874) [10:58]
Six Morceaux for Violin and Piano (1867) [19:48]
Annette-Barbara Vogel (violin), Ayako Tsuruta (piano)
rec. 14-19 December 2001, Clapp Recital Hall, University of Iowa, Iowa City USA.
CYBELE SACD 351.101 [58:46]

As the booklet notes for this release point out, the lives of the French female composers in this programme cover over a century, from the birth of Louise Farrenc in 1804 which coincided with the coronation of Napoléon Bonaparte, to the tragically early death of Lili Boulanger in 1918 in the midst of “the collapse of the world of yesterday”, as Stefan Zweig referred to the horrors of World War I. As women, the composers represented here all faced struggles against prejudice of one kind or another, but the line also describes one of progress, seeing Lili Boulanger as the first woman to receive the Prix de Rome.

That these composers names are still relatively unfamiliar in the musical mainstream today is also some reflection on the uphill nature of their image, but, heard ‘unseen’, there is little or nothing which would categorise any of the work on this disc as inferior to male contemporaries. That said, there is also not a great deal here which is likely to shake the musical world at its foundations. Louise Farrenc’s substantial Sonata No.2 in A major Op.39 is both something of a classical or early romantic academic exercise, following structures and melodic gestures comparable with those of Mozart or early Beethoven. The charming character of the music is so expertly and seamlessly presented that one is both in awe at the technical brilliance of the writing, while at the same time left wondering what if any secrets might lie behind what is essentially a concert work of purely abstract artistry of the utmost refinement. This is a magnificent piece which is a grateful vehicle for virtuoso musicians and a guaranteed crowd-please with which to open the recital.

Lili Boulanger’s contribution here is a single miniature whose weight of content belies its three-minute duration. A great admirer of Debussy, Boulanger was on her way towards developing a more personal style on her death at the age of 25, but the Nocturne here owes some of its pianistic atmosphere to Debussy, as well as the influence of Gabriel Fauré, who was a family friend.

Pauline Viardot-Garciá, sister of the legendary singer Maria Malíbran, enjoyed far greater longevity and wide fame as an opera singer. Her compositional work was something of a sideline, much of it intended for amateur concerts at her home in Baden-Baden, where she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Schumann, Chopin and Brahms. The Sonatine in A minor is an attractive and highly proficient work, but, like the Six Morceaux is designed to entertain with wit and elegant élan rather than to express any profound emotions.

This is a very attractive programme of violin/piano music which is off the beaten track, and as such it is a very welcome addition to the catalogue. There are a few recordings of Louise Farrenc’s chamber music around, but her Sonata No.2 doesn’t seem to be well represented, and while Pauline Viardot-Garciá’s name pops up from time to time it is Nadia Boulanger who is the better known of those particular sisters. The disc is a bit on the short side and it’s a shame Lili Boulanger isn’t further represented with perhaps the energetic little Cortège for violin and piano, or even one of her stronger works such as the remarkable piano solo Theme et Variations, which would have more than helped if thrown in for good measure. The frothy Viardot-Garciá and strangely academic Farrenc pieces won’t do a huge amount to further the reputation of female composers in the 19th century. Never mind, Cybele’s recording is natural and convincing if a little more distant than might be considered ideal, though the SACD surround effect enhances a generous feeling of the acoustic. Annette-Barbara Vogel and Ayako Tsuruta both perform with verve and the kind of conviction which makes this music believable, and this recording a winner qualified only by a certain lack of potential but untapped further repertoire.

Dominy Clements

Attractive, if not earth-shattering.