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Claude DELVINCOURT (1888-1954)
Piano Works - Volume 1
Croquembouches (1926) [25:51]
Prélude et Fugue (1908) [5:03]
Menuet (1902) [3:17]
Gavotte (1908) [2:13]
Valse (1904) [4:16]
Galéjade (1952) [0:57]
Cinq Pièces pour le piano (1923) [18:31]
Diane Andersen (piano)
rec. 2015-2016, Studio Recital B (Tihange-Belgium)
World Premiere Recordings

This is the second release in Azur Classical’s Delvincourt series. I previously reviewed the first instalment which featured works for violin and piano (AZC121). This new album is marked as Volume 1 of the piano music. The production is a joint venture of La Collection du Festival International Albert Roussel and Les Amis de Claude Delvincourt, established in 1995 by Michel Humbert-Delvincourt, nephew of the composer. The project has been overseen by the artistic director Damien Top, singer, conductor, composer and musicologist.

Claude Delvincourt was born in Paris in 1888; his early musical studies were with Leon Boëllmann and Henri Büsser. He later attended the Paris Conservatoire under the tutelage of Georges Caussade and Charles-Marie Widor. His father had hoped he would follow him into the diplomatic service once he had completed his law degree, but Claude had other ideas. In 1913 he won the Première Grand Prix de Rome, and this determined the musical path he would take for the rest of his life. A short spell in the voluntary infantry at the outbreak of World War 1 was curtailed through injury; he bore the scars for the rest of his life. From 1932 he held conservatory posts in Versailles and Paris; he remained at the latter until his death. During the German Occupation in the 1940s, he helped protect his students from service in Germany. He formed the Orchestre des Cadets du Conservatoire. He hid many illegal students, and he himself joined the resistance movement, the ‘Front National des Musiciens’. He ended up having to hide himself towards the end of hostilities at a Jewish friend’s house. He died in Italy April 1954 as the result of a car accident.

Four of the short pieces here could be classed as juvenilia. The earliest is the stately Minuet, penned by Delvincourt at the age of fourteen as a birthday gift to his mother. Already by this age he displays a serviceable working knowledge of classical structure and modulation. Two years later it was his grandmother's turn for a birthday offering in the shape of a Valse. Once again he shows harmonic skill and ingenuity. By 1908 he was firmly ensconced in the Paris Conservatoire, and studying counterpoint and fugue with Georges Caussade. The Prélude et Fugue was most probably a test piece, and it clearly shows that he had the form securely within his grasp. The Prélude is singularly impressive, its passionate, romantic thrust reminiscent of Schumann. The Gavotte from the same year was another birthday gift to his grandmother. Once again he effectively captures the spirit of the particular dance. All four pieces have remained unpublished to this day.

The composer was in his mid-thirties when he came to write the Cinq Pièces, and what is immediately noticeable is the more advanced harmonic complexity of the music. The cycle opens with a dreamy Prélude, which contrasts strikingly with the frolicking and capricious ‘Danse pour rire’ which follows. Andersen injects plenty of spice and revelry into her playing. A Minuetto comes next which, for me, is the least interesting of the pieces. Then comes a lilting bitonal Berceuse, it's gentle rocking rhythm beguiling in its sheer simplicity. The cycle ends with a high-spirited and ebullient Dance hollandaise.

Three years later, Delvincourt composed his Croquembouches, a cycle of twelve pieces, a potpourri of culinary delights. The title derives from a French dessert consisting of choux pastry balls piled into a cone and bound with threads of caramel, usually consumed at weddings. The mouth-watering morsels are vividly painted, and have such titles as ‘Omelette au rhum’, ‘Linzer tart’, ‘Meringue à la crème’ and ‘Plum pudding’. Andersen's broad colouristic range truly adds allure to these enticing dishes. Each shows a wealth of fantasy and invention.

The terse bitonal Galéjade was Delvincourt’s final piano work. Published two years before his death, it is suffused with irony and good-humour.

Diane Andersen’s stylishly idiomatic playing is a favourable asset and makes a positive case for these deliciously melodic pieces. The excellent piano sound is well-focused and pleasing. The sleeve notes provide comprehensive background and context. I look forward with eagerness to the next volume.

Stephen Greenbank



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