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Fernand de LA TOMBELLE (1854-1928)
Musique de Chambre
Sonata for cello and piano (1902-05) [21:17]
Andante Espressivo, for cello and piano (1900) [4:16]
Sonata, for violin and piano, op.40 (1898) [29:19]
Dans les Nuages, for violin and piano [3:20]
Berceuse, for violin and piano (1890) [3:11]
Clair de Lune, for violin and piano [2:12]
Ferme Tes Yeux Bleus (Petite Berceuse), for violin and piano [3:55]
Detroit-Windsor Chamber Ensemble
rec. 2009/11, Blue Griffin Recording, Lansing, USA

Fernand de La Tombelle was born in Paris and took his initial musical steps with his mother, who had been a pupil of Sigismund Thalberg and Franz Liszt. From about the age of eighteen he began private organ and harmony lessons with Alexandre Guilmant, then went on to study counterpoint, fugue and composition with Théodore Dubois at the Paris Conservatoire. Here he was twice awarded the gold medal at the Grand Prix Pleyel for his compositions. Aside from his work as a composer, he performed as a concert organist throughout France and, from 1896 to 1904, was the first harmony teacher at the Schola Cantorum. His students featured such renowned names as Blanche Selva and Déodat de Séverac. His life was never restricted by the confines of music, but took in such interests as sculpture, painting, photography, music ethnology and astronomy. He associated with composers including Saint-Saëns and Massenet.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano is dedicated to Gaston Courras, who was a cellist in the orchestra of the Paris Opéra. The work, in the “serious” key of D minor, is cast in three movements and is richly melodic. There’s much potency in the opening movement. The energy is generated from some impassioned piano writing. In fact, the piano appears to dominate somewhat. By contrast, the slow movement is wistful and dreamy, seeming to reminisce on times past. The spirited finale glances back to the first movement in its animated and vehement mood. The brief piece titled Andante Espressivo is seductive and captivating, and Deleury and Siciliano perform it with fervent intensity.

La Tombelle dedicated his Sonata for Violin and Piano to Paul Viardot. Again in three movements and adopting the fast-slow-fast pattern, the opening movement is conversational in character with the themes tossed back and forth. The Andante is a delightful barcarolle, calming and tranquil. The rhetoric is upped in the finale, where syncopation is employed to maintain rhythmical tension.

The four miniatures for violin and piano are all cast in the salon mode. They bear witness to the composer’s melodic gifts. Ferme Tes Yeux Bleus is my favorite. La Tombelle composed it for his daughter Denise. The yearning violin part is supported by an interesting rocking piano accompaniment. Scheirich and Siciliano perform each with warmth, intimacy and refined delicacy.

These beautifully recorded performances showcase these chamber music rarities to good effect. They have found great advocacy in the infectious and imaginative playing of the Detroit-Windsor Chamber Ensemble. All are first recordings.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Byzantion

Performers: Lillian Scheirich (violin); Nadine Deleury (cello); Mary Siciliano (piano)

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