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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Joseph-Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
Complete Sonatas - Volume 1
Violin Sonata No.2 [32:07] (1)
Sonatine for flute and piano [14:37] (2)
Cello Sonata No.2 [23:12] (2)
Nicolas Dautricourt (violin)
Juliette Hurel (flute)
Raphaël Pidoux (cello)
François Kerdoncuff (piano)
rec. Vincennes, Coeur de Ville. August 2013 (1); Paris, Salle Colonne, September 2012 (2)
TIMPANI 1C1214 [70:13]

My introduction to Ropartz came last year when a friend played me his Symphony No. 2; I was impressed. Where had this composer been all my life? Since then I’ve explored the other four symphonies and the six string quartets. This is all thanks to the enterprising French Label Timpani who are issuing, at a fairly constant rate, the works of this relatively unknown composer – one of France’s best kept secrets. A website dedicated to his music is here. This latest release, titled ‘Volume 1’, explores three sonatas - for violin, flute and cello, each with piano.

Joseph-Guy Ropartz (1864-1955) lived a long life into his nineties. Hailing from Northern France, he was born in Guingamp, Côtes-d'Armor, Brittany. into a wealthy family. He studied under the composers Theodore Dubois (harmony) and Jules Massenet (composition) at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he became friends with the Romanian composer Georges Enesco. He later studied the organ with César Franck. In 1894 he was to travel to Nancy in the east of France, where he would remain as the director of the Conservatory there for the next twenty-five years. This was followed by a ten year stint (1919-29) in a similar position in Strasbourg. Retiring in 1929, he went on composing until 1953, when he was struck down with blindness. He died two years later.

The Violin Sonata No. 2 was completed in 1918 when Ropartz was living in Nancy. A large-scale work, over thirty-two minutes in length, it has echoes of the Breton heathland throughout, a reminder of the composer’s origins and roots. This open-air atmosphere permeates the first movement. Beautiful expressive melody and pastoral romanticism characterize this upbeat opening. It is followed by a relatively short extrovert ‘Vif’ or Scherzo.

The mood changes in the slow movement, which is melancholic and somewhat pensive. It reflects the external circumstances contemporary with the completion of the work – the bombardment of Nancy with the loss of 120 lives. An exuberant finale follows, which assuages the situation.

The application of cyclical principles is evident in this work, most likely an influence of Franck. In effect it is a two-movement piece or ‘diptych’; movements one and two are linked without a break, and similarly movements three and four. Unity is also established in that the Scherzo derives from the opening theme of the first movement, and the finale takes its main theme from the ‘Lent’. Throughout the work, the piano takes on an equal role with the violin.

Eschewing the lush romanticism of the violin sonata, the Flute Sonata is very much later Ropartz, composed in 1930. It is on a much smaller scale and shows a more advanced compositional style. It was dedicated to the eminent flautist
René Le Roy (1898-1985). Again cyclical elements pervade, linking the movements thematically. The dances of the finale, deriving from the habañera and cha-cha, find their origins in the previous movements. The whole canvas is sparsely textured, characterized by luminosity, simplicity and refinement. In the finale, the flute imitates birdsong to outstanding effect.

Dating from around the time of the Violin Sonata, the Cello Sonata was published a year later in 1919. Again smaller scaled like the flute sonata, romantic, exuberant lyricism is an underlying feature. The slow movement is tinged with sadness and nostalgia. It is a meditative and meandering song, dark and world-weary. In the finale Ropartz revisits his roots with a dance from Breton folklore. The work ends on a positive note with joy and happiness.

The sound quality of the CD is second to none, with ideal balance achieved between the soloists and piano. Each of the three instrumentalists gives a deeply committed performance, and the pianist, François Kerdoncuff, provides sterling support. The warm acoustic of both venues allows all the detail to register. With comprehensive booklet notes and detailed analysis of the music, this all adds up to a very desirable release. I eagerly await volume 2.

Stephen Greenbank