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Paul PARAY (1886-1979)
Sonata for violin and piano (1908) [26:49]
Sérénade for violin and piano, Op. 20 (1908) [2:39]
Humoresque for violin and piano (1910) [1:57]
Nocturne for cello and piano (1911, arr. J Masson) [3:44]
Sonata for cello and piano (1921) [27:01]
Romance for violin, cello and piano (1909, arr. Eduard Perrone) [4:19]
Eliot Lawson (violin)
Samuel Magill (cello)
Diane Andersen (piano)
rec. November-December 2016, Studio Recital B (Tihange-Belgium)
World premiere recordings (Nocturne, Romance)

Paul Paray belongs to that group of musicians, like Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter, Igor Markevitch and Eugene Goossens, whose conducting careers overshadowed their compositional endeavours. This is only the second time I’ve encountered Paray’s music. About twenty years ago I purchased a CD of his First Symphony and Joan of Arc Mass (Reference Recordings RR-78CD) on the recommendation of an article I read somewhere. I wasn’t disappointed, and I later discovered that the disc had been nominated for the 1998 Grammy Award for ‘Best Choral Performance’. Most will know Paray from his musical directorship of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (1952-1963). His music, though conservative in many respects for its time, is attractive and exhibits a wealth of imagination and invention.

The two sonatas form the backbone of this release. The Violin and Piano Sonata dates from his time at the Paris Conservatory. Although completed in 1908, it had to wait another six years until March 1914 for a public performance, given by the violinist Hélène Jourdan, its dedicatee, with the composer at the piano. Cast in three movements, the first begins rather tentatively, but soon opens out into a romantically seasoned Allegro moderato. César Franck and Gabriel Fauré seem abiding influences throughout the work. The second movement is a foot-tapping Allegro amabile, whimsical and light-hearted. The lively finale is suffused with joy and geniality. Eliot Lawson and Diane Andersen offer a warm, deeply committed interpretation, which sounds natural and fresh. 

The Sonata for Cello and Piano was published in 1921, but was actually premiered a year earlier on 29 January 1920 at the elegant Salle Erard in Paris, by its dedicatee Gérard Hekking. Once again Paray presents a three-movement structure, and he writes with confident mastery for the cello, having learned the instrument himself in his very early years. The opening movement opens with a restless unease, yet there’s also a certain exuberance and assured conviction. The slow movement is an elegiac lament. Perhaps Paray was recalling to his mind the dark days of the war when he was interned in Darmstadt, such is the underlying pain. The mood lightens in the Allegro scherzando, which struts out with boistrous self-assurance. It is very much music of the time, with echoes of the 'Roaring Twenties' in its burlesque elements.

Paray's governing precept regarding composition was that “all music must be singable”, and the four miniatures certainly bear this out. The earliest is the Sérénade, dedicated to the violinist Jean Ten Have, who had been a pupil of Eugène Ysaÿe. It's a delightful 3/8 waltz-inflected delicacy, whose short introduction reminded me of the beginning of Kroll’s Banjo and Fiddle. The Humoresque of 1910 was composed for Manuel Quiroga, a young violinist in whom Paray saw great promise. There’s more than a passing nod to the violinist’s Spanishness in the lyrical central section. The E flat Nocturne was originally a piece for violin and piano, dedicated to the fiddler Paul Roussel, but it is heard here in an arrangement for cello and piano by J. Masson. The piece is melodically generous, but has an underlying melancholy. Samuel Magill’s eloquent rendering is both passionate and fervent. The Romance started life as a piano piece, written for his sister Marie. It was arranged for piano trio as late as 2015 by Father Eduard Perrone. It begins with a charming melody on the cello, soon taken up by the violin. Then both instruments join forces in an ardent duet, with the piano discreetly accompanying.

All the works are lovingly performed and well-projected. Sound quality, as with all the Azur Classical recordings I’ve heard from Studio Recital B (Tihange-Belgium), is intimate, yet allows space and air around the instruments, with an ideal balance struck. I enjoyed all the music on this release, but if I had to choose a favourite it would undoubtedly be the Cello Sonata.

Stephen Greenbank


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