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Albéric MAGNARD (1865-1914)
Une Mort Mythique
Cello Sonata in A major Op. 20 (1909/10) [27:04]
En Dieu, mon Espérance et mon Espée pour ma Défense for piano (1888) [5:24]
Trois Pièces for piano, Op. 1 (1887/88) [10:17]
Promenades for piano, Op. 7 (1893) [27:52]
Alain Meunier (cello)
Philippe Guilhon-Herbert (piano)
No recording details provided
HORTUS 701 [70:37]

This Magnard re-issue on the French label Hortus originally appeared in 2012 (review). It is now repackaged as volume 1 in the series Les Musiciens et la Grande Guerre (Musicians and the Great War) titled Une Mort Mythique (A Legendary Death). Magnard’s Cello Sonata is the primary attraction with the remainder given over to the composer’s complete output for solo piano which takes around forty-four minutes in total.
 
A Parisian by birth Magnard was born into a wealthy family with a privileged upbringing. A pupil at the Conservatoire de Paris Magnard studied under Jules Massenet and Vincent D’Indy. Magnard became a national hero who was tragically shot and burnt to death defending his house from the invading Germans.
 
Written in 1909/10 the Cello Sonata in A major Op. 20 lasting almost half an hour is a compelling work. The imperturbable partnership of Meunier and Guilhon-Herbert excel in conveying its passion and vigour from the first page to the last. Both instruments sound attractive especially the rich timbre of Meunier’s cello. The intensely brooding Sans lenteur is remarkable for its stark beauty. Blustery and restless in the second movement Sans faiblir a central passage of relative calm is tense with anxiety. The serious tone of the lengthy third movement Funèbre increases in intensity. As for the high-spirited Finale: Rondement there's an undertow of solemn yearning beneath the veneer.
 
The remaining solo piano works are sensitively played. Although reasonably appealing in truth the piano pieces remain unmemorable. I did enjoy the En Dieu, mon espérance et mon Espée pour ma Défense. This is music of a soft and ever so tender quality surrounding a severe and rather strident central passage. The set of Trois pièces is appealing enough and mainly gentle. Tending to be short on variety the exception is the final piece Prélude et Fugue which is initially jolly and then somewhat whimsical. Later it becomes percussive and technical in feel but an attractive melody. The Promenades bear a dedication to the composer’s future wife, Julia. Especially agreeable are the opening Envoi with its loneliness and urgency and the slightly nervy Bois de Boulogne. The bold and almost headstrong Trianon is energetic with strong sense of forward momentum.
 
Splendidly played, I was struck by the stylish musicianship and overall warmth on show here. These musicians are clearly well prepared, impressively surmounting Magnard’s technical challenges. The booklet contains some interesting photographs with first class notes written by Marc Vignal in French with an English translation being both interesting and informative. No problems with the decent sound quality on this re-issue which is reasonably clear and well balanced.
 
Michael Cookson

Previous review (initial release): Rob Barnett