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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Henry VIEUXTEMPS (1820-1881)
Sonata for viola and piano, Op. 36 (1861) [23:27]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Quatre Visages for viola and piano, Op. 238 (1943) [8:48]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Sicilienne, Op. 78 (orig. 1893) [3:39]
Après un rêve (No. 1) from Trois mélodies, Op. 7 (1870/78) [2:56]
Claude DEBUSSY (1906-1975)
Clair de Lune, No. 3 from Suite bergamasque (1890/1905) [3:58]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata for violin and piano in A major (1886) arr. for viola and piano [27:19]
Peijun Xu (viola), Paul Rivinius (piano)
rec. March 2014, Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal, Germany

Few record labels do as much as Profil Hänssler in promoting young performers and here is an excellent recital release from violist Peijun Xu and pianist Paul Rivinius. Peijun Xu who was born in 1985 in Shanghai, China. She attended the Shanghai Conservatory of Music then moving to Europe to study at Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Her studies continued at the Kronberg Academy, Germany with Nobuko Imai and then the Berlin University of Music ‘Hanns Eisler’ with Tabea Zimmermann. Since 2011, she has been teaching viola at Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts. Her debut solo CD comprising works by Bach, Schubert, Vieuxtemps, Chopin and Rebecca Clarke was released by Ars Produktion in 2012. This Profil Hänssler recording of works containing a powerful French flavour with a Parisian connection is her second release.

Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps was a virtuoso violinist as well as a composer and is mainly associated with the Brussels Conservatory. To establish a connection to France and to Paris in particular he studied and lived for a time in the French capital. I have read that he studied at the Paris Conservatoire but I’m unsure about this. Vieuxtemps dedicated his Sonata for viola and piano in B flat major, Op. 36 from 1861 to King George V of Hanover. The three movement score — described as four movements in the booklet essay — is highly agreeable with the opening movement generally upbeat and undemanding if a touch overlong for its material. Next comes a rocking Barcarolla that feels relaxing and contented. Continuing the undemanding mood the yearning Finale maybe represents the pain of parting from a loved one.

Born in the south of France, the highly prolific Milhaud studied at the Paris Conservatoire living in the capital for many years. This pleasing set of Quatre Visages for viola and piano, Op. 238 from 1943 was written for violist Germain Prévost of the Pro Arte Quartet. Milhaud gave each of the Quatre Visages a descriptive title. A delightful piece No. 1 La Californienne is rather feminine in quality embracing a degree of romantic longing that contrasts with the rhythmic No. 2 The Wisconsinian, infused with the spirit of the folk-dance. The amenable No. 3 La Bruxelloise has a contemplative quality with a touch of sadness; very different from No. 4 La Parisienne with its 'gai' and upbeat disposition.

Fauré was born in the south of France but studied in Paris from the age of nine. Spending most of his life in Paris Fauré served for some years as director of the Conservatoire. Composed in 1893, the Sicilienne originally formed part of some incidental music and in 1898 was arranged for cello and piano, Op. 78. Steadfastly admired this wonderfully expressive work is often heard in arrangements and transcriptions including this satisfying version for viola and piano. Maybe Fauré’s Après un rêve is not quite as well known as his Sicilienne but it is equally as charming. Containing one of Fauré’s most touching melodies Après un rêve is a sensitive arrangement of the first of his set of Trois mélodies Op. 7 for solo voice and piano.

Debussy was born near Paris and entered the Paris Conservatoire aged ten, living in the city for most of his life. One of the most enduringly popular works in all classical music Clair de Lune is the third piece in the Suite bergamasque for solo piano. Although Clair de Lune is justly famous in its original solo piano form this arrangement for viola and piano is a rewarding combination.

Franck was born in Belgium but studied privately in Paris where he was to work for the majority of his life becoming a professor at the Conservatoire there. Composed in 1886 the Sonata for violin and piano in A major is probably Franck’s masterpiece. A core work in the violin sonata repertory it was composed as a wedding present for the renowned virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe. This arrangement of the A major score for viola and piano works extremely well and is one I will play often. The opening movement has a warm passion. The following Allegro is a windswept Scherzo with an inner conflict that feels non-threatening. The Third movement Recitativo–Fantasia: Ben moderato is pensive, reflective in mood with the famous songful Finale so memorable for its melody and stylistic fluency. Just a touch of untidy playing audible at 1:05-1:09 (track 14) makes not a scrap of difference to the overall performance.

Peijun Xu and Paul Rivinius can be suitably proud of their accomplished playing throughout this desirable recital. It would take a heart of stone not to be comforted by the hauntingly beautiful playing of Fauré’s Sicilienne and Après un rêve and by the heart-warming rendition of Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Written specifically for the viola Vieuxtemps’s agreeable and undemanding B flat major Sonata commands suitably relaxed playing of charm and real finesse. In Milhaud’s skilfully executed set of Quatre Visages Peijun and Rivinius create a captivating sound-world. Best of all is Franck’s A major Sonata which comes across far better than I had expected. Warmly responsive this partnership conveys a palpable sense of heart-felt passion. Especially impressive is their effective use of colour and dynamic.

The liner-notes and essay provide reasonable information. However, I would have liked to have known who actually prepared the arrangements for viola and piano. The sound quality is satisfying, warm, clear and slightly forwardly balanced.

Michael Cookson