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Edward Swan HENNESSY (1866-1929)
Viola and Piano Works - Volume 1
Rapsodie Celtique Op 50 (1915) [12:29]
Au Village Op 22 (1907) [9:53]
Berceuse Op 13 (1901) [2:42]
Deux Morceaux Op 68 (1926) [3:57]
Valses Caprices Op 41 (1912) [9:50]
Pièce Celtique Op 74 (1928) [3:34]
Sonatine Celtique Op 62 (1924) [10:28]
Marcin Murawski (viola), Anna Starzec-Makandasis (piano)
rec. November 2020, Academy of Music, Poznań

Illinois-born Edward Swan Hennessy (1866-1929) spent much of his adult life in Paris. He had studied in Chicago and then in Stuttgart before moving to live for some years in fin de siècle London, before relocating permanently to Paris in 1903. If he is much known at all it’s for his immersion in Celtic Twilight, a fixation doubtless provoked by his Irish-American background. To that end he sought music from Ireland and Scotland, and also Brittany, and this infused his music-making with themes directly inspired by traditional themes and dances. It is this element that is present – though by no means exclusively so – in this first volume of his music, at which point a caveat should be added. There is only one original work for viola here, Sonatine Celtique, Op 62. Four other works have been transcribed for viola by the present soloist, Marcin Murawski.

Rapsodie Celtique (originally for violin) was written in 1915. Its first movement is a Theme and Variations, followed by an Andantino and then an Allegro appassionato finale. Its theme is a lilting one and the rapid sequence of brief variations includes a really Irish allegretto. The slow central movement is affable, but the main weight falls on the flowing and expressive finale, notable for its fluid lyricism and accumulation of previous material. The other relatively large-scale work is the Sonatine Celtique (also called Sonata) which was written nearly a decade later. After a slow introduction there are some zesty Gaelic dance themes, pleasantly buoyant, and a slow Celtic song, full of ripe lyricism, follows in the slow movement. The jovial fast dance of the finale slows to a reflective B section. In clear tripartite form this is a straightforward piece irradiated by Hennessy’s love of folkloric dance.

There are some smaller pieces that amplify these elements. The Berceuse was written in 1901 when he was in London and is dedicated to a leading British violinist of the time, Beatrice Langley (a fine soloist and chamber player if the press notices are accurate). Deft and gentle, it shows his morceaux/vignette qualities as a salonish composer. Pièce Celtique is a late work, finished the year before he died and dedicated to Flemish cellist Elise Kufferath. Here, too, gentleness is all, the music being pleasing bipartite; Adagio and then an Allegro. Deux Morceaux dates from two years earlier and reveals two things; firstly, it reinforces the love of Celtic lore in the first of the two and second, expands his range of influence to include new-fangled Jazz or at least the foxtrot, a craze for which was sweeping Europe. The wily American even includes a cheeky quotation from My Old Kentucky Home. This diptych was written for the alto saxophone, so it seems strange he dedicated it to trumpeter René Laurent.
The remaining two sets are for solo piano. Au Village (1907) is a set of five miniatures. These include subtle bell chimes for a wedding panel, a somewhat impressionistic scene of Girls, a zany farmyard tableau – showing the wit and humour for which Hennessy was much prized – and a crystalline water study (hints of Schumann). These crisp, brief character studies are gentle and warm evocations. The sequence of seven waltzes that form the Valses Caprices are again very brief and cheerful. There’s a rascally waltz which starts with Chopin and goes off piste, a forgetful waltz lasting 36 seconds, a rather strenuously ‘erotique’ one, and one dedicated to Max Reger - whom Hennessy much admired and to whom he dedicated Au Village – and which fortunately does indeed have Regerian traits.

All the pieces here are world premiere recordings and have been captured in good sound and in fine, affectionate performances. Anna Starzec-Makandasis gets to the heart of the charming solo pieces and accompanies deftly. Murawski’s arrangements work well and he proves an accomplished player.

Jonathan Woolf

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