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Visions of a Century
Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892-1983)
Violin Sonata No 1 (1920) [16:26]
Lucien DUROSOIR (1878-1955)
Aquarelles (1920) [16:05]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Sonata in E minor, Op 82 (1918) [26:29]
Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Morpheus (1917/18) [7:26]
Chinese Puzzle (1921) [1:18]
Malin Broman (violin/viola)
Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
rec. 2020, Västerås Konserthus, Sweden

Visions of a Century, newly released by dB Productions, Sweden, brings together two French and two British composers. All had lived through World War I and had survived the Spanish Flu and, apart from Sir Edward Elgar, World War II also. It was a time when, as the booklet writer noted, composers had “one foot in late Romanticism and the other in more modernistic forms of expression”.

Germaine Tailleferre was the only female member of the circle of French composers dubbed “Les Six,” which also included Auric, Milhaud, Honegger, Poulenc and Durey. The Sonata for Violin and Piano No 1 in C-sharp minor, dated 1921, is cast in four movements. It was written for and dedicated to Jacques Thibaud, who premiered it with Alfred Cortot in June 1922. It’s an engaging work, neo-Classical in style, angular at times and soused with acerbic dissonance. The opening Modéré sans lenteur is, for the most part, of a sunny disposition, with darker moments stealing in. It’s followed by a short, witty Scherzo. The Assez lent slow movement, laced with dissonance and polytonality, feels unsettled in its nomadic restlessness. The mood is lifted in the Très vite finale, which is animated and exuberant. It ends with a scintillating flourish.

Lucien Durosoir is a name completely new to me. He was a French composer and violinist, who had studied with Joseph Joachim. His Cinq aquarelles for violin and piano were composed in 1920. After the First World War, he abandoned his concert career and, with the encouragement of André Caplet, began to compose. The tuneful five pieces reveal a fluency in the writing, enhanced by a melodic interplay between the two instruments. The movement that caught my attention particularly is the fourth movement Berceuse. Its gentle haunting lyricism carries you along, and would make the perfect encore piece in any recital.

Much more familiar is Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E minor, one of three chamber works the composer penned at Brinkwells, a cottage the Elgars had rented near Fittleworth in Sussex. The year was 1918, and World War I was drawing to a close. The performance fully buys into the work’s passion, nostalgia and emotional power. The first movement is grand indeed, but it’s the Romance that really won me over. The coquettish interplay Broman and Crawford-Phillips achieve, both flirting and teasing, is very effective. Then there’s the breathtaking central section, filled with poignancy, grief, reminiscence and regret. It returns in a more impassioned form at the end of the finale. This last movement holds out the hand of hope for the future.

Malin Broman takes up the viola for the two pieces by Rebecca Clarke. The composer began her musical life by studying the violin, and it was only when she attended the Royal College of Music that Stanford, her composition teacher, encouraged her to switch to the viola. Her studies concluded, she embarked on a career as a violist, and filled her spare time composing, completing around 100 scores, most not published in her lifetime. These two short tonally based pieces are instantly appealing, bewitching and memorable. Morpheus, inspired by the Greek god of dreams, has a radiant allure, and calls for some luminous sonorities from the piano. It’s ardently etched by Broman, who savours its bewitching allure. Chinese Puzzle conjures up a world of exoticism and seduction.

Broman and Crawford-Phillips offer a fascinating and intriguing programme, presenting some rarities along the way. Their utter commitment to the music, incandescent playing and convincing interpretations make this an attractive release, well-worth investigating.

Stephen Greenbank

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