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Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
Violin Sonata in A major (1915) [22:39]
Three Pieces for cello and piano (1928) [7:53]
Four Esquisses for violin and piano (1927) [11:53]
Lamento, for cello and piano (1911) [7:12]
Three Aquarelles for piano, violin and cello (1915) [14:02]
Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian (violin)
Henri Demarquette (cello)
Marie-Josèphe Jude (piano)
rec. October 2012 and October 2013, Vincennes, Coeur de ville
TIMPANI 1C1203 [64:34]

It’s been clear for some time that the great flautist Philippe Gaubert was capable of writing music of no little distinction, and this is certainly not the first disc to chart his compositions. His Symphony was his principal large-scale work – there is also a violin concerto - but he found smaller canvases more congenial and Timpani have focused on a series of works for chamber forces composed between 1911 and 1928.
In the booklet notes Himalayan claims are made for the 1915 Violin Sonata. Made, yes, but are they sustainable? It’s a four-movement work that offers a lexicon of engaging and rewarding things. There’s a hint of the Kreutzer Sonata about the opening, arresting and self-confident, but we open up immediately into the world of Gallic pastoral lyricism, more overt – harmonically – than Fauré and with plenty of contrasting material structured in good old sonata form. This is bubbling over with effusive charm, but whilst the slow movement is warmly sculpted it never truly achieves memorability. The brief third movement is a different matter - a stuttering, comic scherzando – that leads to a finale notable for fluid lyricism where he comes closest to Debussian ethos, though one wouldn’t call this inspired by impressionism. The sonata was premiered by Thibaud and Cortot. So whilst I wouldn’t say that this little-known sonata grazes the mountain peaks of greatness, it sits very well in the Franco-Belgian lineage.
The Three Pieces were dedicated to that prince of French cellists, Maurice Maréchal. The Lied is a lovely song without words with a more flighty B section, the Menuet evokes Fauré in antique mood, and the Cortège is full of grace, elevated feeling and, again, somewhat reminiscent of Fauré. The four Esquisses for violin and piano come from 1927 and are even better, full of depth and allusion. The Extase put me in mind of passages from Delius’s Violin Concerto and there’s a rapt depiction of the twilit sea in the second piece. Hunting motifs, with suitably confident fanfares, are evoked in Une chasse…au loin whilst the shore portrait that finishes the set, the most elusive and nostalgic, ends in gentle calm. More obviously strenuous, a stylistic conflation of Late Romanticism and Franckian chromaticism, is the Lamento for cello and piano, very effectively sustained over its seven-minute length. Finally we hear the first recording of the Trois Aquarelles in the original version for violin, cello and piano – the version in which flute replaces violin has already been recorded. These delightful miniatures are variously effusively lyrical, with hints of d’Indy perhaps, a rich lullaby, and in the last of the three, a hint of Spanishry in the shimmer and sway.
The splendid performances have been well recorded and are supported by an enthusiastic booklet note which sings Gaubert’s compositional praises. Rightly so, really, as he has a small but individual voice in the world of French music of the time.
Jonathan Woolf