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Henriette RENIÉ (1875-1956)
Sonata for Cello and Piano [22:14]
Pièce symphonique (in three episodes) [10:30]
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano [26:27]
Trio Nuori (Vincent Brunel (violin), Aude Pivôt (cello), Flore Merlin (piano))
rec. 2017, Couvent des Minimes, Beauregard-l’Évêque, France
LIGIA LIDI0302325 [60:03]

Henriette Renié is best remembered today as one of the finest harpists of her generation. Starting off on the piano, she felt compulsively drawn to the harp, following a concert given by Alphonse Hasselmanns, who was to become her teacher. Progress was swift, and in 1887 she took the Premier Prix at the Paris Conservatory. She was later to become Hasselmanns's assistant. Wanting to extend her wings further, she studied composition with Théodore Dubois. A three-pronged career ensued, that of composer, virtuoso and teacher. I was interested to read that Lily Laskine was one of her pupils, a harpist I greatly admire.  Renié's 2-volume Méthode pour la harpe is still held in high regard. She continued as an active performer until about six months before her death in March 1956.

Most of what Renié composed is, understandably, for her own instrument, and though recordings of her music are thin on the ground, what there is seems to be of harp music. This is the first time these chamber compositions have been recorded, and all thanks to the Trio Nuori, who have a special interest in off the beaten track composers. In 2014 they released a disc of music by the French composer Alexis de Castillon. None of the three works featured on this latest CD can be dated with any accuracy

Although its date of origin is uncertain, the Sonata for Cello and Piano was published in 1919. It holds the distinction of being the only composition by Renié not for the harp. It must have been highly regarded, as it picked up the Alain Chartier prize from the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The opening bars of the first movement reminded me of the beginning of Gabriel Fauré's Violin Sonata No. 1 and, in fact, Fauré's spirit hovers over the entire work. César Franck's Violin Sonata is also referenced. The music is heavily romantic, sensuously passionate and richly soused with lyricism. Aude Pivôt and Flore Merlin play with rapt intensity and a compelling sense of shared purpose.

The Pièce symphonique started life as a pedal harp piece, and is here heard in its piano transcription. It's in 3 episodes, piloting the listener through the different stages of mourning. It treads a solemn funereal pace at the beginning. At the end, it opens out into a glorious melody, supported by diaphanous arpeggios. Much of the writing sounds harp-like, and this was confirmed when I listened to the harp version on You Tube; yet it lends itself to the piano very successfully. 

All three players come together for the Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano. The composer offered performers of the work the alternative of piano or harp. Apparently this is the first time the work has been recorded in its piano version. It was written around 1901. The first movement is resolute and determined, imaginative and resourceful. Renié reveals her eloquent gifts in the ardent second subject. A sprightly Scherzo follows, rhythmically buoyant and gleaming. A wistful Andante precedes a finale of fervent ardour. One senses a real joy in the music-making. I cannot fault the Trio Nuori's lusty exuberance - it's infectious!

This is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying chamber music discs I’ve heard in a quite a while. The music overflows with beguiling lyricism. I find it hard to comprehend why this wonderful music isn’t better known. The sound has a rewarding depth, and balance between instruments is perfect. The performers express utter commitment to the music. I’ll be returning to this disc often, and I’ll be introducing it to my friends.

This is music that deserves a wider currency, and for me it has been a real discovery.

Stephen Greenbank

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