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Piano Miniatures by Female Composers
Viviane Goergen (piano)
rec. 2017, Festeburg-Kirche, Frankfurt, Germany

The music of women composers is finally being given the respect and credit it deserves. However, the fact that this disc presents music of nine composers of whom hardly any are well known, shows that there is still a long way to go. That the ARS label has released this disc should be both applauded and condemned: applauded, in that they bring to the listening public a cross section of composers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and condemned because it takes a disc of ‘Piano Miniatures by Female Composers’ for them to be recognised, which begs the question of why they have not previously been included on discs of piano pieces by their male contemporaries. This is something of which the whole industry seems to be guilty, there seldom being examples of male and female composers sharing the limelight and, in the past, just the odd piece being included as a filler. The major labels have been especially bad at this, so grateful thanks go to ARS for this fine disc.

The music chosen for this disc is varied and interesting in its own right and deserves to achieve a larger audience. Yes, some can be described as being “charming”, but only in the way that this epithet can be applied to many piano miniatures composed during the period and in that it actually reflects the musical tastes of the time. Some of the composers here are new to me but the disc opens with two pieces by a composer who might be known by some: Mel Bonis, the prolific French composer, who like many of her generation, was a pupil of César Franck at the Conservatoire of Paris, where she was a sometime classmate of Debussy. It is the second of these two pieces, “La cathédrale blesse”, with its allusion to Debussy’s “La cathédrale engloutie” as well as to the “Dies irae”, as it references the destruction of churches during the First World War.

The next composer is also fairly new to me, as I know only her Flute Sonata which features on another ARS disc (ARS38089). Swiss composer Marguerite Roesgen-Champion was also a keyboard player, who along with Wanda Landowska, played an important role in the revival of interest in the harpsichord in the twentieth century. She composed five harpsichord concertos as well as the Concerto moderne for Harpsichord and Orchestra; she acted as soloist in the premiere in 1931. She also composed a piano concerto and a number of solo pieces for harpsichord and, or piano. The two pieces performed here are the outer movements of a larger work and are firmly rooted in Roesgen-Champion’s neo-Romantic style, with the second piece, “Jeux de nymphes”, being particularly interesting.

We then move to the Czech composer Otilie Suková-Dvořáková, the daughter of one composer and the wife of another. She died prematurely and very little of her music survives. Only three of her piano pieces are in printed editions, two of which are recorded here. The lyrically charming “Ukolébavka” stands out, although the “Humoresque” is capricious and eventful.

Beginning with a rippling motif, the “Dunová Prludia” by the Czech composer Vitězslava Kaprálová, who was the daughter of Janáček’s pupil Václav Kaprál and the singer Viktorie Kaprálová, showed her great promise. She went on to study with Vítězslav Novák, Václav Talich and Bohuslav Martinů, and her music was championed by the likes of Rafael Kubelík. Her untimely death at the age of only 25 was a great loss to Czech music. Her music is more modern in outlook; whilst still being melodic and characterful it still represents her musical heritage well.

Perhaps the best known of the composers featured on this disc, Germaine Tailleferre, the only female member of Les Six, is represented by a single piece, her lovely lilting “Sicilienne” of 1928. It is typically French in character and reflects the influence of her teacher of orchestration, Maurice Ravel. Another French composer, although of the previous generation, Marie Jaëll, is probably best known these days as a teacher. She developed her own method for teaching the piano that is still in use, although her music, too, is now becoming recognised in its own right. This can be seen in her inclusion in the Bru Zane series of Portraits (ES 1022), which offers extensive documentation as well as three discs of her music. As I said in my review of that set, her music is deeply Romantic in nature: the “influence of Schumann and Brahms can be seen. There's also the occasional glimpse of Liszt.”

The remaining three composers are all new to me. Stephanie Zaranek and Vera Winogradowa were both born in Russia. Zaranek had a successful career in the former Soviet Union as a teacher. Only a few of her works have made it to the West; “Cinq Miniatures” of 1929 has a French feeling to it, especially in the charming opening Marche; however, the rest of the suite is tinged with Prokofiev, especially in the “Grotesque”. Winogradowa was a student of Glazunov and, like Zaranek, of Maximillian Steinberg at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. She married the Estonian composer Hermann Bernhard Biek (1896-1944) and in 1937 the couple moved to London. They died in Chichester, although she always retained her husband’s Estonian nationality. She was known mainly as a pianist with only about thirty compositions to her name, of which the majority were for solo piano. Despite their French-sounding title, the “Deux Danses,” are clearly Russian in character, the sound of Prokofiev’s more acerbic piano music instantly coming to the fore.

The final piece on this disc is the “Danza Criolla” of 1954 by the Argentinian composer Alicia Terzian who had been a student of the great Alberto Ginastera at the conservatory in Buenos Aires. It is very attractive, firmly rooted in the Argentine folk tradition and at odds with her more avant-garde later style.

This is an excellent disc of often neglected women composer’s music, with many of the pieces receiving their premiere recording here, a fact which belies their quality. They are expertly brought to life by the pianist Viviane Goergen who is excellent throughout, making this a most enjoyable and welcome addition to the catalogues. Excellent recorded sound throughout and informative booklet notes aid the listening.

Stuart Sillitoe

Mel BONIS (1858-1937)
1    Une flűte soupire, Op. 117 No. 2 (Version for Piano) [1:43]
2    La cathédrale blessée, Op. 107 [4:58]
Marguerite ROESGEN-CHAMPION (1894-1976)
Bucoliques pour piano ou clavecin modern (1937) *
3    Chant pastoral [2:28]
4    Jeux de nymphes [4:25]
Otilie SUKOVÁ-DVOŘÁKOVÁ (1878-1905)
5    Ukolébavka (Wiegenlied) [2:22] *
6    Humoreska [2:06]
Vitězslava KAPRÁLOVÁ (1915-1940)
Dunová Prludia (April-Praeludium) Op. 13
7    I. Allegro ma non troppo [2:05]
8    II. Andante [2:59]
9    III. Andante semplice [1:52]
10 IV. Vivo [2:24]
Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892-1983)
11 Sicilienne [3:37]
Marie JAËLL (1846-1925)
Valses mignonnes
12 No. 1, Trčs animé [1:16]
13 No. 2, Assez vite [1:32]
14 No. 3, Mouvement trčs modéré [2:08]
15 No. 4, Trčs décidé [1:28]
16 No. 5, Retenu mouvement de valses [2:07]
17 No. 6, Animé [1:58]
Stephanie ZARANEK (1904-1972)
Cinq Miniatures op.4 *
18 No. 1, Marche [1:34]
19 No. 2, Chanson [1:29]
20 No. 3, Grotesque [1:04]
21 No. 4, Fragment [1:23]
22 No. 5, La toupie [0:59]
Vera WINOGRADOWA (1895-1982)
Deux Danses op.21 *
23 No. 1, Moderato [1:07]
24 No. 2, Allegro [2:05]
Alicia TERZIAN (b. 1934)
25 Danza Criolla, Op. 1 [2:52]

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