Ermend BONNAL (1880-1944)
Légende (1912, trans. Vincent Grappy) [11:07]  *
Symphonie d’après “Media vita” (1932) [24:58]
Improvisation (1907, trans. Grappy) [4:19] *
Paysages euskareins (1930) [21:45]
Après la tourmente [9:10] *
Vincent Grappy (organ)
Christophe Giovaninetti (violin) *
rec. la collégiale Saint-Pierre de Douai
HORTUS 132 [71:19]

Ermend Bonnal was born in Bordeaux in 1880, studying first the piano, then the organ with Alexandre Guilmant at the Paris Conservatoire. There his composition teacher was Fauré, but it was Charles Tournemire who was to exert the greatest influence. During the First World War he performed as an organist in his native city and he also had an itch for popular music and brought out tangos, ragtime numbers and foxtrots under a pseudonym. He composed a steady stream of works in most forms, from sonatas to oratorios, eventually succeeding Tournemire, in the early years of the Second World War, at the organ of Sainte Clotilde. He was not to enjoy much more time, however, dying in 1944.

This disc is devoted to his organ compositions, of which three feature the violin. His organ music stands at the conjunction of Tournemire and Duruflé, both honouring tradition and striding out to some newer directions. The Symphonie d’après “Media vita” dates from 1932 and is a concert orientated work that takes a Gregorian theme. Cast in three movements, it’s notable for the deft registrations and range of dynamics explored as well as its sense of colour. There is much lyricism to be heard as well as lively contrasts, and a gravely luminous slow movement sits at its heart albeit with some dynamic effects to be heard in the faster material. Jubilation opens the finale but Bonnal is a notably well-balanced composer and always ensures that his music is calibrated with just the right weight of emotive control.

The other major work is the Paysages euskariens, in which cosmopolitan technique fuses with folkloric inspiration to generate a work of great fancy and flair. The imagery may well be, as the brief notes declare, parareligious but there is much that is captivating and immensely fresh, and once again Bonnal proves a minor master in the use of colour in his scores.

The Légende of 1912 is transcribed, by organist Vincent Grappy, from the piano accompaniment. This is quite a fascinating work with folkloric inflections once more and also, to ears attuned to it, intimations of Vaughan Williams, whose music Bonnal surely could not have known. There’s even a foreshadowing of the Lark Ascending at one point. The organ offers the violin a supportive cushion with soft, chocolate-rich bass registrations, the fiddle revelling in its quietly passionate introspective song, the whole piece ending as quietly as it had begun. The 1907 Improvisation, again transcribed by Grappy, is briefer and cut from a distinctly Franco-Belgian violin lineage. Finally, there is Après la tourmente and, as per Bonnal’s instructions, Grappy has transcribed it directly from the piano part – this indeed was his precedent for the previous two arrangements. Despite the work’s descriptive title, this is actually the most salon-based piece in the disc, an unaffected but hardly strenuous piece of charm, dedicated to Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, herself a violinist.

Bonnal’s music is largely unknown these days and the violin works, in these arrangements, are making disc premieres.

Jonathan Woolf

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