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Pierre WISSMER (1915-1992)
Oeuvres Concertantes
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1954) [24:24]
Trumpet Concertino (1959) [10:02]
Concertino-Croisière (1966) [10:54]
Sonatine-Croisière for flute and harp (1966) [10:34]
Divertissement sur un choral (1938) [16:20]
Eva Zavaro (violin)
Romain Leleu (trumpet)
Christelle Raynaud (flute)
Anne Ricquebourg (harp)
Hungarian Symphony Orchestra/Alain Påris
rec. Hungarian Radio Studio 22, Budapest, 2018
CLAVES CD1811 [77:54]

Geneva was the birthplace of Pierre Wissmer, and although his early musically formative years were spent at the city's Conservatory, his True North was a peculiarly French neo-classical sensibility. He went to Paris in 1935 and there worked with Charles Munch, Roger-Ducasse, and Daniel-Lesur. He pursued a career as an academic and taught harmony, orchestration and composition at the Paris Schola Cantorum, then at Le Mans Conservatory and also at the Conservatory in Geneva.

He wrote ballets, concertos, chamber music and mélodies. There are nine symphonies (1 (1938); 2 (1951); 3 (1955); 4 (1962); 5 (1969); 6 (1975-7); 7 (1983-4); 8 (1985-6); 9 (1988-9)). These have been recorded by a spread of orchestras and issued in a most unlikely and now very rarely seen 4-CD set in 2012 by Intégral Classic (INT 221.242). This uses a miscellany of orchestras to tot up the nine. The line-up includes the orchestra and conductor that appears here plus the National Orchestra of Ukraine/Fabrice Grégorutti, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Edmond Appia; Orchestre Léon-Barzin/Jean-Jacques Werner as well as Dominique Fanal variously conducting the Sudeten Philharmonic, Walbrzych; the Olsztyn State Philharmonic and the Orchestre Symphonique du Mans.

Wissmer’s expressive language underwent changes over the years. By this he stepped back in the 1950s from music of "hedonistic character, based on a shimmering harmony" and adopted a more subtle tonality. He married this with increasing adoption of counterpoint and some insurgency from atonality. The works on this disc fall either side of the divide but, in general, avoid all but the most spectral evidence of the atonal.

The tonal Second Violin Concerto is in constant activity. It is a shade dry in tone and is resiliently springy. After a partly miasmic and then capriciously active dream of a Molto Moderato, a frank ardour surfaces for the first time in the helter-skelter Allegro con spirito. It is in the finale that the music takes on communicative colour. From five years later comes a product of a competition: the Concertino for trumpet and piano for which he wrote a version with orchestra at the same time as the duo score. In its orchestral form, the Concertino was given its first performance in 1961. Its three short movements have the much the same acidly singing air of a mature Rawsthorne score. There is a romantic, almost bluesy and bereft Molto moderato after which comes a gamin Allegro con spirito. The latter drifts between wide-eyed innocence and a brusque Honegger-like tread. In the finale Wissmer makes a close approach to Poulenc's Suite Française and Milhaud's Suite Provençal.

Wissmer loved spending time on the French Riviera and the two Croisiere pieces can be thought of as his holiday works. These brief three-movement works are from 1966 when the composer simultaneously wrote a concertante version entitled Concertino-Croisière, where the flute dialogues with a string orchestra, regularly reinforced by a piano. The Sonatine-Croisière for flûte and harp confronts us first with one of Wissmer's chamber works. There's a flighty Azuréenne followed by what seems an even more reflective Vénitienne. The final Capriote is another flighty and ecstatic fantasy prompted by the same named island in the Gulf of Naples. The Concertino also has a Capriote which is preceded by a lambent and self-absorbed Vénitienne. The Capriote tends to gawkiness and has some of the flittering flightiness of the first movement. The orchestral version was premiered in Sanary-sur-Mer.

From a different and much earlier world comes the Divertissement sur un choral with its five movements. This immediately mixes an uncomplicated dreaminess with an off-beat, incantatory and smiling part for piano. The innocence and countryside delights of the Andante are an even franker approach to Poulenc and Milhaud in their sunniest moments. The flute plays a lead role throughout. Wissmer has the valour to finish the work with a long Andantino. There the piano approaches Finzi's Eclogue in its centred and steady progressions. A blithe and bright trumpet solo in the centre speaks of Wissmer's joy in invention.

Wissmer's other concertante works are Piano Concerto No. 1 (1937), Violin Concerto No. 1 (1942), Piano Concerto No. 2 (1948), Clarinet Concerto (1960), Oboe Concerto (1963), Dialogue for Bassoon and Orchestra (1974), Piano Concerto No. 3 (1974), Dialogue for Cello and Orchestra (1974), Sinfonietta Concertante for Flute, Harp and Orchestra (1982), Guitar Concerto (1976) and Violin Concerto No. 3 (1992). Some of these have been recorded on a variety of labels including Marcal Productions, Quantum and De Plein Vent. Quantum have also issued a CD of Wissmer's complete works for solo guitar.

As for the present Claves CD, it is distinguished by alert playing and all the musicians need to be on their toes in these very unfamiliar works. The Hungarian Symphony Orchestra under Alain Påris are surely well-rehearsed. The Claves engineers keep this an approachable learning and emotional experience. The sound is very slightly dry and analytical rather than ripe.

The liner-essay in French and English is included in a booklet glued into the case's three-way card-fold. The author is Jacques Tchamkerten.

Rob Barnett


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