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Pensées Intimes - The Musicians and the Great War XII
Hans PFITZNER (1869-1949)
Violin Sonata, Op. 27 (1918) [27.02]
Frederick Septimus KELLY (1881-1916)
Violin Sonata Gallipoli (1915) [22.57]
Georges ANTOINE (1892-1918)
Violin Sonata, Op. 3 (1912-15) [21.25]
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Nocturne (1911) [3.18]
Guillaume Sutre (violin)
Steven Vanhauwaert (piano)
rec. 19 and 23 August 2014, Schoenberg Hall, Herb Alpert School of Music, UCLA, USA

Titled Pensées Intimes (Private Thoughts) this release is volume XII in the ambitious Editions Hortus series WW1 Music - The Musicians and the Great War. The intention is to widen awareness of the repertoire from composers who were involved in the Great War. Pianist Steven Vanhauwaert states on a promotional video that the aim of the series is to “examine how the War influenced the music in different ways.” These are composers who may have been directly involved in the fighting, maybe even casualties or even those exempted from service owing to ill health or age who wrote from the relative safety of home.

Hans Pfitzner was at the height of his powers when he completed his Violin Sonata in 1918. The previous year his opera Palestrina had been premièred in Munich and his star had risen high. Yet after the Great War he was affected by the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France as he was working in the regional capital Strasbourg at the Conservatory and Opera house. Authors Strand-Polyak and Rogers in the booklet essay see the Sonata as Pfitzner’s melancholic reflection on the German Romanic era. The whole Sonata is a mainly blustery and restless score with a slow movement full of yearning. An especially appealing Finale: Extrêmement dynamique et enflammé in the hands of Sutre and Vanhauwaert feels suitably vibrant and ebullient.

Australian born Frederick Septimus Kelly was educated at Eton Public School and Oxford University, and later at the Frankfurt Conservatory where Pfitzner had also studied some 18 years earlier. During the Great War Kelly fought at Gallipoli only to die on the Somme in 1916. The Violin Sonata known as Gallipoli was written in 1915 for Jelly d’Aranyi who Kelly had accompanied in recital before the war. The unruly character of the opening movement is admirable although the playing does feel a touch tentative. The partnership seems at home with the reflective quality of the Adagio with its strong Gaelic suggestions. Undoubtedly Kelly’s Sonata would have benefited from the sound of a richer, warmer toned violin. Although I have not heard it I should just mention an alternative recording on the EM Records label (review).

Georges Antoine was born in Liège and studied at the city’s Royal Conservatoire. D’Indy described him as “marvellously gifted”. At the outbreak of the Great War Antoine set aside his music studies and joined the Belgian army. Becoming ill in 1914 meant Antoine was eventually discharged from the service but unable fully to conquer his illness he died from pneumonia in 1918. Antoine worked on his Violin Sonata between 1912 and 1915 and upon completion the clearly satisfied composer wrote to his brother stating “the Sonata has become a beautiful thing". Sutre and Vanhauwaert have the measure of Antoine’s work revelling in the lovely romantic writing; so melodic and affectionate. Although at the conclusion my assessment is that Antoine’s sunny and warm movements contain insufficient contrast really to hold the attention and a place in the repertory.

Studying at the Paris Conservatoire, in 1913 Lili Boulanger was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome. Dying in 1918 aged only 24 Boulanger did, in her short life, write a number of successful often exquisite compositions that are well worth discovering. Originally written for flute or violin and piano the Nocturne from 1911 is a miniature work which lasts under three and a half minutes. One of Boulanger’s finest pieces the Nocturne is given a splendidly shaped performance and contains an especially attractive, soaring melody.

This collection of rarely played, agreeable if unremarkable music has the additional drawback of a rather unattractive recorded violin sound. Produced in 2014 at Schoenberg Hall, UCLA the tone quality of the violin feels over-bright, slightly screechy and metallic. In addition compared to the piano the violin is slightly set back in the balance. My advice is to sidestep this release as there are much better albums in this fascinating Editions Hortus series such as the music of Albéric Magnard on Volume 1 titled Une Mort Mythique featuring the magnificent Cello Sonata.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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