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Pierre De BRÉVILLE (1861-1949)
Viola Sonata (1944) [18:52]
Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Viola Sonata, Op.53 (1911-15) [29:53]
Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870-1939)
Suite in Three Parts, Op.11 (1897) [17:12]
Steven Dann (viola)
James Parker (piano)
rec. May 2011, La Salle Françoys-Bernier (Domaine Forget), Saint-Irénée, Quebec
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD2 2519 [66:13]

Of this trio of works for viola and piano - two sonatas and a suite - it appears that only the Koechlin has previously been recorded. It strikes me that the sonata by Pierre de Bréville is, in particular, worthy of an accolade in this first recorded performance given its refinement and sensibility; given, too, the fine performance and tonal shading and ensemble virtues that document its course. Written in 1944, toward the end of the composer’s long life, it shows some allegiances to Franckian principles - he had studied with Franck in the 1880s - and some hint too of an earlier enthusiasm for Wagner in its clear chromaticism. But neither influence is overpowering. In fact it’s a tribute to the composer’s skill at the age of 83 that he maintains so convincing a sense of fluidity in this work, adding a languid central movement with attractive modality. The finale oscillates between lyrical and self-assertive and whilst thematically things could more distinctive, there is some virtue in ending the work as abruptly and argumentatively as he does. It is an unexpected twist. The work was dedicated to France’s greatest violist, Maurice Vieux.
Koechlin’s Sonata was begun in the years before the First World War but finished, as was de Bréville’s, in wartime. Subtitled ‘La plainte humaine’ it is very much more explicitly of and about its time than the much later work from his older contemporary. Dedicated to Darius Milhaud, who gave its first performance, there is a strong and abiding sense of introspective melancholy at work, with the piano’s trumpet calls reminding us of the circumstances prevailing at the time of its composition. The terse scherzo embodies a quicksilver resolve, with their clear hints of Debussy, but this movement dissolves into a rather austere, reflective slow movement. The finale opens with a ruminative echo of one of Koechlin’s own songs but slowly builds up quite powerfully before ending exuding some kind of consolation.
The youngest composer of the three is Tournemire and yet his Suite was by far the earliest of the works in this disc to be written. Dating from 1897 it occupies a post-Romantic position, and was dedicated to Pierre Monteux, himself a violist of repute. This is a good addition to the repertoire, with some striking moments and exchanges. Because Tournemire is known best as a composer for organ one might have anticipated a certain pianistic thickness, but not from the sound of things. In fact the last movement is ebullient, with a soupçon of Franck and a dash of folkloric verve.
Steven Dann and James Parker make a first-rate team in these works and they have done fine service to the three works.
Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Byzantion