Maurice Emmanuel was a contemporary of Debussy and Dukas but his interests in folk music, the Classical age and musical experimentation make him unique.
An Op. 6 written at the age of 40 may seem like the product of a late-bloomer but Emmanuel was extremely critical of his own works and of an output comprising 70+ only about 30 survive. The Violin Sonata is quite Franckian in many ways, but in the breadth of its themes, unique use of modality and occasional playfulness are evidence of a composer with his own voice. It is in the first movement that the influence of Franck is most evident but at the same time one feels that Emmanuel is using Franck’s style as a means to broaden his own. The adagio is dark and passionate, with more harmonic experimentation than in the first movement while the concluding allegro giocoso has a most interesting main theme which the composer combines ably with previous material for an impressive finale.
The Suite sur des airs populaires grecs
, Op. 10 started out as illustrative material for a lecture on the history of Greek folk music. Several years later the composer turned the lecture examples into a vivid concert work evocative of Greek songs and dances. Of these the most effective is the third piece, Pyrghi
, which has a most expressive middle section. The last piece, Boulgarikos
, combines song and dance in vigorous fashion.
Louis de Launay was a geologist, historian, and poet who was a life-long friend of Emmanuel. His Musiques
is a set of twelve poems evocative of musical forms written against the background of the Great War. While full of contrast the poems share an austerity appropriate to the times. This last element is foremost in Emmanuel’s settings but combined with great beauty of line and a certain tenderness. A fine example is the second song Vibrations
in which the beautiful and evocative vocal line is combined with an abstract accompaniment. The listener feels an emotion that is both strong and intangible. The sixth song, Invitation à la Valse
, and the tenth, Valse Hongroise
, are both evocative of that dance form. Where the first is full of irony, the second is more like Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau
, with beautiful melody disappearing into the distance - a perfect evocation of the text. The last song, Postlude
, speaks of de Launay’s hopes for France after the end of the war. Again Emmanuel perfectly captures the text with a mixture of beauty and austerity.
Frédéric Angleraux and Francois Killian turn in powerful performances of both the violin works. Angleraux’s tone and attack are just right for the music and Killian is equally good in the complex accompaniments. Killian is even more subtle in Musiques
showing a true understanding of both poetry and music. He is matched by Hélène Hébrard whose performance is full of insight combined with complete mastery of the cycle’s vocal demands.
While Emmanuel remains something of a cult figure his music is very well-represented on disc. The present recording of the Violin Sonata is a world premiere, but there are two other recordings of the Suite available currently and a fine performance by Florence Katz of Musiques
on Timpani (see review
). Many listeners may choose the latter disc as it comprises the complete Emmanuel songs but Ms. Hébrard’s performance merits the purchaser’s serious consideration in itself.
Violin Sonata in D Minor (1902) [27:56]
1) Adagio Moderato [13:42]
2) Adagio non troppo [8:01]
3) Allegro giocoso [6:11]
Suite sur des airs populaires grecs Op. 10 (1907) [10:53]
4) Khasarikos: Allegro moderato [3:51]
5) Mamaro et Amades: Allegretto [3:04]
6) Pyrghi: Allegro ma non troppo [1:54]
7) Boulgarikos: Allegro ma non troppo [2:04]
Musiques (1917) [31:51]
8) Prélude [2:37]
9) Vibrations [30:22]
10) Le Vieux Coucou [1:34]
11) Sous les pins [2:24]
12) Résonances [2:30]
13) Invitation à la valse [1:26]
14) Villanelle du temps passé [2:38]
15) Berceuse [3:58]
16) Marche au bonheur [1:19]
17) Valse hongroise [2:00]
18) Des mots! Des mots! [1:53]
19) Postlude [3:41]