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René de CASTÉRA (1873-1955)
Chamber Music - Volume 1
Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 5 (1905 rev. 1908/09) [29:05]
Lent et grave for Cello and Piano (1922) [7:26]
Sonata in E minor, Op. 13 for Violin and Piano (1909) [26:25]
Ensemble Joseph Jongen:
Eliot Lawson (violin)
Benjamin Glorieux (cello)
Diane Anderson (piano)
rec. 2007, Studio Recital B (Tihange-Belgium)

In 2015, my colleague David Barker waxed lyrical about Volume 2 in Azur Classical’s René de Castéra chamber music series, awarding it a Recording of the Month (review). I’m pleased to have the opportunity to review Volume 1. This is my first encounter with the French composer, and information on the internet is scant. Some of what little I’ve gleaned I share here. He was born in Dax on April 3, 1873. On the recommendation of the pianist Francis Planté he was admitted to the Paris Conservatory in 1891 at the age of 18, where he became a pupil of Edouard Risler. Later, he was part of the first intake of nine students to be admitted to the newly established Schola Cantorum. Deodat de Séverac was a fellow pupil, and the two formed a deep friendship. He studied piano, organ, violin, harp, composition and conducting. After the war he mainly focused on composition. He died on October 8 1955 following a heart attack, aged 82.

The D minor Piano Trio was initially premiered in Brussels on 9 March 1905. Four years later it came to the attention of Vincent d’Indy, who made some suggestions regarding improvements that could be made. Castéra took the advice and made some revisions, which included cuts and the incorporation of some new material. The result was the definitive version we have here (the unrevised version appears in Volume 2). The first movement opens with music that’s rather sombre, with a hazy calm pervading. Eventually the pace becomes more rhythmically animated, but the mood remains nostalgic. Towards the end, the dreamy calm of the opening measures returns. There follows a Divertissement, where folk and dance-like elements evoke a festive scene. There’s a central tranquil section, before the carnival returns. The slow movement has a soothing quality, offering some restful calm before the Très animé finale, which is exuberant and untroubled.

The Lent et grave is a cello and piano adaptation of a movement from his Concert, for Flute, Clarinet, Cello and Piano of 1922. Underlying religious elements run its course. At times it feels rather doleful and world weary. Glorieux and Anderson give a marvelous performance full of fervent intensity.

Inspired by his rambles in the Landes forest, the Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 13 dates from 1909 and bears a dedication to Paul Poujaud. It was premiered at the Paris Conservatoire on 11 March 1911. Paul Dukas was most impressed with the “openness and simplicity” of its themes. Lilting melodies alternating with more pointed rhythmic episodes inform the opening movement, and nostalgia never seems too far away. The melancholy of the silent Landes is evoked in the slow movement. Czech dance forms are incorporated into the self-assured final movement.

Castéra’s music is given new currency with this release, and it definitely makes a case for more of his music to be revived. These intriguing scores are, without doubt, the product of a fertile, creative mind.

Stephen Greenbank


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