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Guillaume LEKEU (1870-1894)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G [34:18]
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in C minor [43:20]
Bruno Monteiro (violin)
Miguel Rocha (cello)
Joao Paulo Santos (piano)
rec. 2018, Igreja da Cartuxa, Caxias, Portugal

Jean Joseph Nicolas Guillaume Lekeu was born in Heusy, a village near Verviers in the Walloon area of Belgium, and has always been a ‘what if’ composer - what if he had lived past the day after his 24th birthday when he died of typhoid fever at his parents’ house in Angers in France? He composed around fifty works with some left incomplete at the time of his early death, with his music showing great maturity and pointing to what should have been a great future, with potentially the reputation of being the greatest Belgian composer after Franck. His music has fared fairly well on disc with Ricercar even recording his complete works, some nine and three quarter hours of music on eight CDs (RIC351), a set that has been on my wish list since its release in 2015. There have been some very fine single disc recordings of his music too, of which I have a few, with both the works featured here doing well in the catalogues, especially the Violin Sonata.

The Violin Sonata was composed for the great Belgian violin virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe and completed in 1892. It seems to have been inspired by the example of his master, César Franck and, we are told, cost the composer “infinite suffering”. A deeply passionate work, the opening melodic phrase of the first movement sets the scene well with its downward octave followed by a sweeping upward scale. This is followed by a second, more animated theme in which the piano is given a prominent role. The second movement is perhaps the composer’s most passionate music of all, the broad sweep of the initial melody being truly beautiful. The central section is introduced by the piano, and here the influence of another Franck acolyte is felt in the song-like manner of this section, namely Vincent d’Indy. Another influence is that of the folk music of Wallonia. The final movement brings more impassioned and lyrical music, with its first and most dramatic theme setting a quicker pace, before the second section enters and the tempo drops to becomes more lyrical. It is in this second section that Lekeu shows his indebtedness to Franck in the way he reintroduces themes from the first movement, the Sonata ultimately becoming a cyclical work.

I have always had a soft spot for Tasmin Little and Martin Roscoe’s 2014 recording of the Violin Sonata (CHAN 10812), and even when compared to the highly praised recording by Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien (CDA67820), this remains my favourite. So, Bruno Monteiro and Joao Paulo Santos have tough acts to follow in this enjoyable performance. Their slightly slower tempos emphasise the sustained passion of the Sonata, yet it is the more impassioned performance of Little and Roscoe which for me still comes out on top. Nevertheless, Bruno Monteiro and Joao Paulo Santos make a good impression and are not that far behind.

The Piano Trio has fared less well, with only a handful of recordings available. My introduction to the work was the Spiller Trio’s 1999 performance on the Arts label (47567-2). The Trio dates from 1890 shortly after Lekeu’s return from Bayreuth and shortly after he began studying with Franck, but despite this the Trio seems to be free from the influence of both Franck and Wagner, instead looking backwards to Beethoven. As with the Sonata, it seems Lekeu was not overly satisfied with the results, complaining of an “overly disciplined and broken structure”. The work is perhaps a little too long, with the composer over-developing the thematic material. All the same, there are some attractive passages here, especially in the slow second movement where once again the composer’s passionate nature shines forth, especially in this new recording in which Monteiro, Rocha and Santos exploit the emotional element slightly more than the Spiller Trio with their slightly slower tempo. Indeed, this new recording has the edge throughout with more committed playing, as well as benefitting from better sound than the Spiller Trio were afforded on the Arts recording.

This is an enjoyable recording one which, while it is not my first choice for the Violin Sonata, does give you a committed performance, something which is carried over into the Piano Trio, a performance I prefer to that of the Spiller Trio. The sound is very good, maybe not as clear as that on the Chandos or Hyperion recordings, but certainly more detailed than the Arts recording. The booklet notes, by Bruno Monteiro, are brief but informative and helpful. A disc I like the more I listen to it, and one which has my recommendation if you are looking for a disc that solely presents the music of Guillaume Lekeu.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Stephen Barber

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