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Émile Pierre RATEZ (1851-1934)
Chamber Music – Volume 1
Dans la Foret op.5 [4:58]
Douze Pieces Pittoresque op.8 [28:13]
Souvenir du Village op.9 [5:13]
Deux Pieces op.38 [7:02]
Sonate pour Alto and Piano op.48 [16:23]
Marcin Murawski (viola)
Hanna Holeska (piano)
rec. December 2015, April 2016, I.J. Paderewski Acadamy of Music, Poznan, Poland
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0358 [61:59]

Chamber Music – Volume 2
Sonate for piano and alto op.18 [12:50]
Caprice-Valse – duo for flute, alto and piano op.13 [3’24]
Deux pieces for flute and piano op.42 [6’12]
Intermezzo for flute and piano op.50 [3:11] Sonatine for flute and piano op.61 [7:58] L’Aegipan for piano op.72 [4:21]
Fantaise iberique for alto and piano op.51 [8:45]
Japonerie for alto and piano op.57 [10:56] Piece Romatique for alto and piano op.70 [4:41]
Ewa Murawska (flute)
Marcin Murawski (viola)
Hanna Holeska (piano)
rec. June 2016, I.J. Paderewski Academy of Music, Poznan, Poland.
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0366 [62:24]

Unusually, I began to listen to this CD before reading the booklet notes about the composer. It was not long before I began to think that the spirit of Saint-Saens was hovering over the music. In fact, I was not far off the mark, because Ratez was a pupil of Massenet. He spent the last 43 years of his life as director of the Lille Conservatoire and before that he was a violist in The Opera Comique.

His dates suggest that he might have come under some influences from Debussy or Ravel, but if he did so in later life, it is not evident here. In fact he spent the last 43 years of his life as head of the Conservatoire in provincial Lille, on the border with Belgium, and so he might have managed to avoid the modernistic goings on in Paris.

The first work on Volume 1 is the 5 minute ‘Dans la Foret’ Op.5, a charming, memorable piece which the violist has transcribed from its original format for English Horn or oboe. I don’t know whether the difficulties presented in doing this have resulted in the balance between the instruments being a little odd during the first minute or so; perhaps it is just the viola playing quietly but it is sometimes almost covered by the piano. However, this peculiarity vanishes abruptly at 1’10” in.

The second work on the disc is the 28 minute long ‘Douze Pieces Pittoresque’ op.8 – its twelve pieces last between 1 minute and 5 minutes. They flow easily by, grateful on the ear, some having more-or-less picturesque titles such as ‘Le Coeur de Poete’ or ‘Joyeux Retour’, and as the booklet note says, they make a welcome expansion of the 19th century viola repertoire.

The principal other work present is the more formally titled ‘Sonate pour Alto and Piano and' op.48. The notes claim that in composing it, Ratez was joining with other composers – Bowen, Reger, Enescu and others, who were exploiting the capabilities of the viola. As a player in a professional orchestra for many years, one would expect Ratez to know the instrument well, and so it proves, for in this piece all the registers of the instrument are fully exploited. Do not expect to hear any influences of Reger, though!

Some of the music on Volume 2 bears higher opus numbers than works on Volume 1 do, and so I wondered whether Ratez’ style might have undergone a degree of modernization, given the presence on the compositional stage of such giants as Debussy and Ravel. But no, the works presented here show an easy fluidity so typical of the lighter works of Massenet and Saint-Saens. Of course, we are not given any excerpts from his operas or ballets, so making a fully considered statement is not really possible, but I suspect that his training at Massenet’s hands and subsequent professional life as a violist in the Opera Comique followed by 43 years at the head of the Lille Conservatoire, resulted in an ingrained musical conservatism that felt neither inclination nor need to branch out.

The work with the most intriguing title is his op.72 L’Aegipan, which, as we all know, is a mythological goat-legged faun. It is the only work for solo piano on the disc and supposedly represents the creature prancing through a forest, pausing thoughtfully now and then, before resuming his wandering. At 4’20: it is a typical genre piece.

It is followed by, for me, the most memorable piece on the disc, the ‘Fantaisie Iberique for Alto and Piano’ which in its nine minutes manages to incorporate Spanish rhythms and hazy languor. Another work in which Ratez takes us to exotic lands is the 10’56: ‘Japonerie for Alto and Piano’, but I have to say that it is pseudo-Japanese froth seen through conservative European eyes – in fact I would never have guessed that it was in any way supposed to represent Japan.

The principal other works present are the more formally titled ‘Sonate for Piano and Alto' op.18 and ‘Sonatine for Flute and Piano' op.61. The latter is a true ‘small sonata' lasting as it does a mere 7’58: and once again demonstrates its composer's ability to write fluently in a relatively light style.

On the evidence of this discs, there is little doubt that Ratez’ muse was not one that inspired cerebral or adventurous composition, but, as I said in my review of the first CD, everything on this disc is attractive music to listen to, and demonstrates the not-to-be-sniffed-at characteristic of grateful, sometimes quite memorable melody.

These world premiere recordings are good, with well balanced instruments in a natural acoustic. To my ears, though, in the viola sonata, the instrument sounds rather bright, almost harsh when playing in its higher registers. This is not, perhaps, quite so noticeable in the other pieces where the viola appears, and is not noticeable at all in the lower reaches of the instrument, where the familiar dusky tone is apparent. The booklets are of splendid quality with full composer, artist and work information.

Jim Westhead

 

 



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