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René de BOISDEFFRE (1838-1906)
Music for Clarinet or Cello and Piano
Sonate for clarinet and piano Op. 12 (reconstructed by Romuald Twardowski) [31:47]
Prière for cello and piano Op. 25 No. 2 [4:02]
Trois pièces for clarinet and piano Op. 20 [6:51]
Trois pièces for clarinet and piano Op. 40 [8:43]
Berceuse for cello and piano Op. 34 [3:27]
Suite orientale for cello and piano Op. 42 [8:58]
Andrzej Wojciechowski (clarinet)
Anna Sawicka (cello)
Anna Mikolon (piano)
rec. 2018/19, Radio Gdańsk, Poland

The reverse of the jewel case announces Acte Préalable as a “Leading Label Promoting Polish Music and Musicians”. The performers are indeed Polish; the composer here is French. If you thought that you knew of most of the significant French composers of the second half of the nineteenth century then I wonder if you knew of this composer. Coming to his music for the first time, I am astonished that this appears to be the ninth disc completely devoted to his works.

René Le Mouton de Boisdeffre hailed from Vesoul, a town in Eastern France. In his day, the population was only about 8,000 so his training was a little limited: he learned from his family, especially his mother who by all accounts was a fine pianist. He moved to Paris when he was five. His career flourished, and this led to later meetings with Massenet and Saint-Saëns. These men were undoubted influences, and friends for most of their lives. The composer’s musical focus, as can be seen from the CDs now in the catalogue, was chamber music.

The brains behind this Boisdeffre revival is Jan Jarnicki, Artistic Director and Producer. He wrote a brief essay about the project(s) and his love for the composer’s works. He notes how leading Polish composer Romuald Twardowski has “aided his operations numerous times”.

The first work, the longest in this collection, is the four-movement Clarinet Sonata. The original version has not yet been recovered but the composer arranged it as a Violin Sonata. Jarnicki invited Romuald Twardowski to put that version back into its original format, as far as one can, and Twardowski has done a brilliant job. The quite turbulent first movement, Allegro con brio, is in sonata form. The exposition repeat is observed. You might feel a sense of Gounod or even Schumann. The lovely Allegretto scherzando in compound time is followed by a profound and melancholy Andante con moto. The finale marked Allegro vivace is energetic. It uses a syncopated melodic line which might have emerged from the composer’s love of folk dances.

If you wanted further proof of Boisdeffre’s melodic inspiration then just listen to the warm-hearted Berceuse, a simple ternary-form structure beautifully conceived without fuss – just good-mannered and utterly agreeable. So one should not be too surprised that the first of Opus 20 Pièces for clarinet and piano is simply entitled Melodie. It is followed by a lively piece in “an ancient style”, another folk dance I think. But it is the final Barcarolle that seems to have the most tastefully shaped lines. All the time, the harmonies are wistful, even sometimes surprising, and always appealing.

The CD ends with a pleasing but rather innocuous Suite orientale. This falls into three movements: Sous les palmiers (Under the palm trees – it actually manages to slip in a quote from Saint-Saëns’s famous Swan), Chanson arabe and Danse orientale. I have to say that, apart from a little modality and some slightly catchy rhythms, there is nothing especially oriental about this music that I can hear. Saint-Saëns could have added a great deal more spice if he had written such a piece. But Anna Sawicka plays it with a wonderfully rich tone, and gives the music every chance to succeed.

Of more interest, character and elegance are, to my mind, the Three pieces for clarinet and piano Op 40. The first movement has the appropriate charm of a delightful Chanson napolitaine, and the ensuing Cantabile is memorably poetic. The final Serenade is also tuneful and decidedly suitable for the clarinet although, as with the exquisitely pious Prière for cello and piano, the piece was also scored for viola and piano and recorded in 2018 (on AP0401).

As well as the remarks by the enthusiastic Jarnicki there is, in the attractively produced booklet, a rather vague and slightly sycophantic essay by pianist Anna Mikolon. She comments that in this music “there is no ugliness, sonic or structural experiments,” no “Berlioz majesty” and so on. There are some comments about the composer’s background, and in tiny print on the back of the CD case a couple of hundred further words about the composer. The latter will take some reading because the print is very small, but I should not worry too much: it seems to be is mostly gobbledygook.

The performances are unblemished, committed and perfectly prepared. The recording is immediate but spacious. No composer or artistic director could want for more. The booklet is adorned by a very lovely and tasteful painting by Carot.

Gary Higginson

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