In a less culturally atavistic world, the names of people like Fernand de La Tombelle would be widely known whilst those of footballers, Hollywood actors and so-called pop stars would sink quickly and forever into obscurity. Paris-born La Tombelle was a polymath who led an extraordinarily rich life. He married an established poet, co-founded the Schola Cantorum de Paris - according to both booklets - not corroborated by the School itself or Grove - was a published astronomer, inventor, sculptor, photographer, painter, even chef! It was a life not without tragedy: in 1873, when La Tombelle was only nineteen, his father was hacked to death in his home by two axe-wielding burglars subsequently guillotined. His music has been called "alternately passionate romanticism or rigorous classicism [...] often melancholy, but always elegant." Despite all this, his biography in Grove is pitifully scant, whilst his substantial and varied body of works merits barely a line.
Though unequivocally original, La Tombelle's chamber music comes closest perhaps to that of Chausson or - especially in the sonatas - his friend Saint-Saëns, though self-evidently of a younger generation. La Tombelle wrote the undated lullaby Ferme Tes Yeux Bleus
for his young daughter, but the other short works on the Azur disc - the Berceuse
, Clair de Lune
and the faster Andante Espressivo
and Dans les Nuages
- all have a similarly dreamy, lyrical straightforwardness that a tired child (or indeed adult) would find mental and physical solace in. The two Sonatas and the Trio and Quartet from the Ligia disc are all major works that merit wide recognition - fulgent, fervid and French, one and all. Finest of all is the Trio, a masterpiece of its kind, incredibly receiving its first ever recording here.
The Azur recording comes from the yearly Albert Roussel International Festival (Flanders) collection, and has some of the trappings of a live recording, though the booklet indicates a studio venue in Michigan. Canadian violinist Lillian Scheirich, French cellist Nadine Deleury and American pianist Mary Siciliano come together in the shape of the Detroit-Windsor Chamber Ensemble, a name which indicates their main axis of activity. At any rate, they all bring skill and passion to this recording, not to mention the benefit of careers dedicated to neglected composers. On the Ligia recording, pianist Laurent Martin, hugely experienced and a specialist in French music, is excellent in the Trio, as are the two soloists from the Satie Quartet, whose tutti then give their own persuasive account of the String Quartet.
La Tombelle's works have occasionally popped up in recent times on anthologies, but these two discs - coincidentally released within a few months of each other - plus a slightly earlier release by the French label Disques XXI of his oratorio, Les Sept Paroles de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ
(CD-21721), are the very first monograms. The sheer quality of La Tombelle's music underlines once more the high cultural value of projects undertaken by adventurous labels to record works by putatively obscure composers. These discs should not be considered in competition with each other: not only do they have only the four-minute Andante Espressivo
in common, but both recordings are admirable in virtually all regards, from the quality of sound to the idiomatic performances, to the ratio of important works featured. There are no two ways about it: both CDs belong in the collection of all music-lovers.
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk