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Joseph-Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
Complete Sonatas - Volume 2
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in D minor (1907) [25:04]
Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in G minor (1904) [27:25]
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in A major (1927) [19:52]
Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian (violin)
Henri Demarquette (cello)
François Kerdoncuff (piano)
rec. Vincennes, Cœur de Ville, September and October 2015
TIMPANI 1C1235 [72:37]

When it comes to unsung composers the French label Timpani have led the way in exploring the rich legacy of their home-grown talent. In 2014 I reviewed the first volume of Joseph-Guy Ropartz sonatas, a delightful disc featuring the Flute Sonatine and the Second Violin and Second Cello Sonatas. This eagerly awaited Volume 2 gives us the remaining Violin Sonatas 1 and 3, and the Cello sonata 1.

From a wealthy family, Ropartz was born in Guingamp, Côtes-d'Armor, Brittany. Initially he studied law, but then changed direction and entered the Paris Conservatoire where his teachers included the composers Theodore Dubois (harmony) and Jules Massenet (composition). He worked as director of the Conservatoires at Nancy and Strasbourg. Finally retiring in 1929, he went on composing until 1953 when he was struck down with blindness. He died in 1955 aged ninety-one. He was a prolific composer of operas, symphonies, chamber music and choral music, with much of his music influenced by the landscape and folk music of his native Brittany.

The famous Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe and pianist Raoul Pugno premiered the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in D minor in 1908, a year after its composition. A Franckian inheritance shows itself in a cyclical thread running throughout the work, a similar method he would employ three years later in his Symphony No. 4 (1910). The opening movement Allegro moderato is preceded by a short Lento in unison octaves for piano alone. It sounded familiar. Then I realized it is faintly reminiscent of Loys Bourgeois' 'Old Hundredth'; could there be a subconscious link - we’ll never know. Then the violin enters the fray, eloquent and floating above the undulating piano accompaniment. It’s a movement rich in melodic ideas, and Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian contours the line with drama and passion. The slow movement is a wistful song, recalling past memories. At times the music has a prayer-like quality, with violin and piano reverential and emotionally intense. The finale follows without a break and we are immersed in a rustic dance, whose folksy Celtic rhythms take on a celebratory feel.

Once again Ropartz closely aligns himself to the cyclical principles of César Franck in the Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in G minor, a work predating the First Violin Sonata by three years. It opens with the cello singing out a plaintive melody against the accompaniment of a piano part of virtuosic dimensions. François Kerdoncuff is remarkable for his confident technique and sensitivity. Forceful romantic gestures make their presence felt throughout. Henri Demarquette has a full-bodied rich tone and fully does justice to the melodic outpourings of the score, instilling plenty of passion and fire into his playing. The song-like Quasi lento second movement offers an element of contrast, restoring calm. Pizzicato heralds an upbeat and affable finale. Here, a rustic dance alternates with a more lyrical section. Both players deliver a robust and vigorous performance. I was interested to read that Fernand Pollain and Alfred Cortot were worthy advocates of the work.

Twenty years separate the Third Violin Sonata from the First. All the features of the composer’s late style are evident – lighter textures, condensed forms and the fusion of melody and harmonic progression. Unlike the other two works, this sonata is set in four movements. In the first the atmosphere is carefree and relaxed, and peace and serenity reign. In the Vivace which follows, the players indulge in a capricious and jocular dialogue. The short Molto lento is pensive and exquisitely rendered by the instinctive playing of Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, who luxuriates in the sumptuous music. Verve and vigour inform the dance rhythms of the Finale, the pirouettes and roulades coaxing a smile. The Sonata was premiered in 1928 by its dedicatee George Enescu partnered by Robert Casadesus.

Recorded in the Cœur de Ville, Vincennes the sound quality is pleasingly clear and well-balanced. Annotations meet Timpani’s usual high standards, offering detailed informative background, analysis and context. As far as I know this release completes the sonata legacy, and the two volumes, for me at least, are priceless.

Stephen Greenbank



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