Claude DELVINCOURT (1888-1954)
Violin Sonata (1922) [28:45]
String Quartet, Op. posth. (1954) [25:38]
Maurice Crut (violin), Lucette Descaves (piano)
Parrenin Quartet
rec. 1955/6, Paris

Here’s a most interesting restoration. My eyes tend to light up when I see the words Ducretet-Thomson, and that’s not simply because a number of Germaine Thyssens-Valentin’s discs were issued on this LP label. There was much else besides, and this is an example of the flair for repertoire shown by that company.

Claude Delvincourt is little known today but he studied in Paris under Leon Boëllmann and Henri Büsser, and later under Widor. He won the Prix de Rome, and became Director of the Paris Conservatoire in the dangerous year of 1940. This was the first recording made of his 1922 Violin Sonata, an expansive work with an interesting structure and even more interesting themes. It’s a work of instability, with strong emotive states repeatedly clashing against each other. It would be facile to term it a war sonata, but given its date it might well be thought to embody much of the agitated, almost grotesque and distraught elements that pervaded the times. Its opening is austere but soon becomes derailed by the piano’s wild dance. Harmonies are increasingly challenging, undercutting the refined and gentle writing that is also present. Even the central scherzo - brief and superficially zippy – has a kind of barely controlled hysteria. The long finale – it’s almost half the length of the sonata - is marked ‘Calme, mystérieux et hautain’, and becomes tersely abrasive with passages of almost hallucinatory burlesque. Intensity here is increased by the tart tone and razory incision of Maurice Crut, superbly accompanied by Lucette Descaves. They manage to unfold the ‘all passion spent’ final paragraph of this troubling, involving, and sometimes even exhausting work with great perception. This sonata hasn’t been wholly ignored in our time; the excellent Ilona Then-Bergh and Michael Schäfer have recorded it for Genuin (13271) but this 1955 mono LP, finely transferred with just a bit of LP rumble, preserves a discographic first full of vehemence and expressive power.

The posthumously published String Quartet was dedicated to the performers in this 1956 recording, the Parrenin Quartet. It was originally issued on Club National du Disque. Composed over thirty years after the Sonata, it’s less expressively intense but shares certain salient features, not least a harmonically unsettled approach. Some ‘wrong note’ unisons ratchet tension, but the compact phrases do lighten the texture and even admit some burlesque elements. The slow movement is yearning but unsettled, whilst the finale wants to dance but never quite manages to do so without reservation. The dedicatees play with immense dedication. This is one of their least well-known recordings.

There are no notes as usual from this source but there are some internet links. Forgotten Records’ engineering is first class, once again. It’s getting to be a given writing that.

Jonathan Woolf