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Sonates de la Côte d'Albâtre 
Jacques de la PRESLE (1886-1969)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1913-14) [21:46]
Paul PARAY (1886-1979)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1908) [25:59]
Claude DELVINCOURT (1888-1954)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1919) [28:18]
Gautier Dooghe (violin)
Alain Raës (piano)
rec. 2016, Studio Recital B, Tihange, Belgium

The Normandy Côte d'Albâtre in Northern France provides the scenic backdrop to this latest release from Azur Classical, recorded under the auspices of La Collection du Festival International Albert Roussel, under the artistic directorship of singer, conductor, composer and musicologist Damien Top, who has also provided the liner-notes. The three featured composers all had connections with the region. Paul Paray was born in Le Tréport, Claude Delvincourt lived for a time in Rouxmesnil-Bouteilles, and Jacques de La Presle had a fondness for Le Tréport. The three composers were contemporaries, classmates at the Paris Conservatoire and met up during their summer vacations for recreational pursuits such as tennis and walking.

The biographies of Paray and Delvincourt have already been covered in my previous reviews (Paray ~ Delvincourt), but perhaps I should say something about Jacques de La Presle. Until this CD came along I'd never heard of him. He was born in Versailles and his initial musical studies began there before he progressed on to the Conservatoire in Paris. Here he studied harmony with Antoine Taudou, counterpoint with Georges Caussade and composition with Paul Vidal. His studies were interrupted by the First World War but resumed afterwards. In 1920 he won Second Prize in the Grand Prix de Rome for his cantata Don Juan, and First Prize the following year with a cantata – Hermione. He eventually took a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire. In his later years, he worked for Radio-Paris and in musical education.

The earliest work here is Paul Paray's Sonata for Violin and Piano, penned in his early twenties whilst still a student at the Paris Conservatoire. The composer dedicated it to the violinist Hélène Jourdan, who premiered it in March 1914 at the Salle Erard in Paris, a good six years after its completion. You’ll hear echoes of César Franck and Gabriel Fauré throughout its three movements. The opening movement has all the exuberance of youth, both passionate and romantic. The hip-swaying syncopated rhythms of the central Allegretto amabile are blithe and carefree. Sanguine and optimistic sums up the high-spirited third movement.

It was at his family's residence in Le Tréport that Jacques de La Presle began his Violin and Piano Sonata in 1913, which he completed a year later. The violinist Léonie Lapié, partnered by Nadia Boulanger, premiered it on 6 January 1921 at the 71st Concert of the SMI. Tolling piano chords accompany a plaintive melody in the opening measures of the first movement. The music eventually becomes more vital and alive. Those tolling chords reappear in the middle movement, a Lent tender, wistful and nostalgic. The finale, despite its upbeat tempo, seems to carry the sentiments of regret, with the occasional bursts of optimism.

The Delvincourt Sonata is a work of potent emotional impact and is, in my opinion, the finest work on the disc. There's no doubt that the shadow of World War I looms ominously over this dark score. There’s some respite in the central Vif et Gai, but it's short-lived. The fifteen-minute final movement can be considered as two. The first, Calme, mystérieux et hautain, is dreamlike and mystical, but the spell is broken when the music becomes Animé. Brusque, razor-sharp brushstrokes are interspersed with chromatic gambols. Calm and serenity bring this wonderfully expressive work to a conclusion.

All the music on this disc is accessible and tonally-based; each sonata is ungrudging in its melodic largesse. As I said, the Delvincourt is the masterpiece and deserves to be performed more often. Gautier Dooghe and Alain Raës deliver praiseworthy and immaculately tailored accounts of these rarely heard works. The balance and recording quality is first-class, as is the accompanying liner.

For me, this has been a rewarding musical journey.

Stephen Greenbank

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